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Does our security require an international crusade for democracy?

By Don Feder
web posted February 14, 2005

To put this in perspective, I voted for George W. Bush twice. Given an alternative similar to those presented in 2000 and 2004 I would do so again in a heartbeat. During the past campaign, I wrote many articles supporting the President's reelection and highlighting the obvious shortcomings of the junior senator from my home state.

I can think of any number of situations where America would be fully justified in the application of force. I also believe we are in the midst of a world war against a foe which is every bit as toxic as fascism or communism.

I remain convinced that the United States was right to go into Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein -- whether or not weapons of mass destruction are ever found. (Whether America should still be in Iraq, almost two years and more than 1,400 American lives latter, is another matter.) I believe our intervention in Afghanistan was equally justified.

This speech is not about Iraq or Afghanistan. It's not about Haiti or Kosovo, or other dubious interventions, though I do intend to touch on the latter.

Instead, what I'd like to discuss with you this morning comes out of the President's Inaugural Address just two weeks ago. The Administration has been drifting in this direction for some time. Now, apparently, drift has become headlong rush.

The address raises a number of critical questions I'd like to explore with you today:

Is it America's role in the world to liberate the oppressed? Does tyranny always endanger our security? Does democracy foster peace? Does despotism invariably lead to cross-borders conflict?

The theme of Mr. Bush's Second Inaugural Address was unexpected. It was assumed the President would take the opportunity to defend his policy in Iraq and in the war on terrorism generally. Instead he offered a vision of breathtaking scope -- an American mission for the new century. 

In the course of his address, the President said the following:

"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

Really? In 1787, did our liberty depend on the success of liberty in other lands? But 218 years ago we were alone in raising the standard of popular sovereignty. Still, our republic prospered. American liberty survived World War II. However, a case could be made that by the end of that decade there was less liberty abroad than before (especially with the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe and the triumph of Maoism in China). In and of itself, did this regression make America less secure?

The President also observed: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity, and matchless value … . Advancing these ideals is the mission [there's that word again] that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time."

Silly me, I always thought the honorable achievement of the Founders was throwing off the yoke of a capricious monarchy and giving America a constitutional government with civil liberties and limits on state power -- not launching America on an international crusade for human dignity and a recognition of the "matchless value" of every individual.

The Preamble of the Constitution does not read: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, engage in nation-building, punish tyrants, secure human rights and spread democracy to the furthest corners of the globe, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Returning to the Inaugural Address, the President promised: "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is always right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies." (The last did not refer to the operations of the Internal Revenue Service.)

These are noble sentiments, indeed. But like every administration before it -- and perhaps more than some -- this administration is highly selective in the application of its exalted doctrines.

While boldly proclaiming liberty and justice for all, we complacently do business with some of the worst tyrannies on earth.

The People's Republic of China is a slave state with a booming economy. Although some of its people enjoy increasing prosperity, outside of the politburo none has a say in government. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to dissent -- all are nonexistent. Beijing regularly persecutes Christians, and non-religious movements like Falun Gong.

The last U.S. President I recall speaking out for freedom in China was Ronald Reagan.

China has Most Favored Nation trade status. That great moralist, Bill Clinton, officially de-coupled MFN from China's human-rights record. Our trade deficit with China was roughly $150 billion last year, much of which went toward expanding the People's Liberation Army, whose job it is to keep the people in line, and to advance Beijing's territorial ambitions.

There are Chinese who enjoy all of the rights Mr. Bush said it is America's mission to uphold. They are citizens of the Republic of China on Taiwan. So, which China do we call a strategic partner and which do we treat as a pariah?

On a visit to the mainland in December, then Secretary of State Colin Powell said the goal on both sides of the Taiwan Straits should be the eventual reunification of democratic Taiwan with totalitarian China. (This was not coupled with a call for breaking chains and ending the reign of bullies.) That's how the Bush doctrine is applied in Asia.

And when was the last time this administration called for human rights in Saudi Arabia -- a medieval monarchy that subsidizes murderous fanaticism around the world, including in America? Forget about equal rights; in the Wahabbi paradise, women can't even drive cars, which the nation's religious authorities have declared "a shameful thing."

Tell me, Mr. President, do Saudi women welcome their humiliation and servitude? If not, what are we doing about it? Is not advancing the ideals of rights and dignity the "calling of our time"?

Does the Government of Pakistan believe that "every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value?" Do the homicidal mullahs who dominate Pakistani society?

In Pakistan Christians are regularly imprisoned for "slandering the Prophet Mohammed" -- a capital offense.

We went to Iraq to keep Saddam Hussein from possessing and dispersing weapons of mass destruction. Pakistan has such weapons, the kind that produces mushroom clouds.

In November 2003, even the Government of Pakistan could no longer deny that Dr. A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, had been involved in the massive transfer of nuclear technology and weapons designs to regimes which would love to start World War III, including those of Iran and North Korea (two legs of the President's Axis of Evil) -- all under the watchful eye of the Pakistani military.

In February 2004, after a pro forma apology, Dr. Khan was officially pardoned by Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, and allowed to continue as head of the nation's nuclear program. What we condemned in Saddam, we condone in Musharraf.

Like many of his predecessors, General Musharraf is a president in uniform who came to power in a 1999 coup. The Taliban regime, which ruled Afghanistan until our intervention, and sheltered al-Qaida, was a creation of Pakistan's intelligence service.

Here, it would seem, is a prime candidate for a regime change. But, since the Administration believes we need Pakistan to help keep the lid on things in Afghanistan, and to hunt for Osama bin Laden, we're giving Musharraf a pass and his country roughly $3.2 billion in aid over 5 years.

I could go on but I believe you get the point.

As a whole, the President's Second Inaugural Address was -- well, as Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan put it, "somewhere between dreamy and disturbing." Paul Weyrich, Chairman of the Free Congress Foundation and a founding father of the modern conservative movement, said the speech "seemed utopian." A commentator quipped that Mr. Bush gave the best speech Woodrow Wilson ever wrote.

Wilson, you may recall, told Americans that our entry into the First World War, almost 90 years ago, would "make the world safe for democracy." H.G. Wells, another utopian visionary, called it "the war to end war."

The century of secret police, gulags and death camps that followed proved Wilson's prophecy one of the worst in history -- comparable to Marx's prediction that the triumph of communism would lead to the withering of the state. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, under communism the only thing that withered away was the idea that the state would wither away.

Wilson was obsessed with the notion that the world would never be at peace as long as Europe was dominated by absolute monarchies. But the monarchies he helped to topple in 1917-18 were replaced by regimes infinitely worse.

When America entered World War II no one talked about a crusade to bring representative government and human rights to the Germans and Japanese. FDR may have articulated his Four Freedoms but it was clear that America was fighting because we had been attacked and because the Axis posed a direct threat to our security, not because Hitler and Tojo oppressed their own people.

Lest we forget, in that conflict we were allied with the greatest mass murderer of all time. In his 30-year reign, Stalin killed more people than Hitler. I'll tell you something else: Given the nature of the threat at that time we were absolutely right to be allied with the Soviet Union. The Wehrmacht bled itself in the snows of Stalingrad.

What makes the Wilsonian worldview so perilous is that it encourages humanitarian interventions. If it's always in our interests to insist on democracy and oppose tyranny then why shouldn't we employ our overwhelming military might freely -- to achieve these happy ends?

But past humanitarian interventions have been anything but happy -- either for us or for the recipients of our benevolence. Think Somalia. Think Haiti. Think Kosovo.

In 1994, President Clinton deployed 20,000 Marines to Haiti to (I kid you not) "restore democracy." How one can restore the unknown is a mystery. What we restored was Jean Bertrand Aristide, a corrupt Castro crony, who presided over lynch mobs.

Aristide's restoration was followed by a decade of disputed elections, abolished legislatures, political stand-offs, violence and counter-violence. Haiti became a transit point for the Latin American drug trade. Last year, Aristide was ousted again. By then even Washington had grown tired of him.

The interim government that followed was par for the course. Since September an estimated 200 people have died in political violence and much of Port-au-Prince's business district is deserted. In the meantime Haiti continues its tragic descent into anarchy and misery.

That's how well the most powerful country on earth brought democracy and freedom to a nation a few hundred miles off our shores.

Undaunted, Clinton next moved boldly to end oppression in Kosovo. At least he didn't talk about restoring stability to the Balkans.

The rationale for our intervention was to stop the so-called ethnic cleansing of Albanian Moslems by Christian Serbs. "Ethnic cleansing," a newly coined term, being somewhere between genocide and a change of address.

There were reputed to be mass graves in the province. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, an ex-communist apparatchik, was described as a junior-league Himmler. We were told that violence in Kosovo would somehow spill over Europe. There were visions of Serb panzer divisions roaring out of the Balkans, headed for Paris.

For 78 days in the spring of 1999 we bombed Yugoslavia. We succeeded in killing over 3,000 -- most civilians, mostly with cluster bombs.

After the war, no mass grave was found. But if there wasn't ethnic cleansing before the bombing began there certainly was after it ended.

Exultant Albanians drove 277,000 Serbs from Kosovo, two-thirds of the pre-war Serbian population. Hundreds were killed and thousands brutalized. Albanian multiculturalists destroyed 135 Orthodox churches, monasteries and shrines -- all under the watchful eye of NATO and the US. The Kosovo Liberation Army (whose terrorists turned politicians control the province) is into drug running and sexual slavery. It also has ties to al-Qaida.

But damned if we didn't bring democracy to Kosovo, and that's what counts -- or does it? The province's democratically elected prime minister -- a KLA alumnus -- is under investigation by the International Criminal Tribunal for murdering 67 Serbs and ordering the deaths of 267 others between 1997 and 1999.

Ladies and gentlemen: Does our safety really lie in the global triumph of democracy? Hitler came to power through the democratic process. All over the world people regularly elect savages and sadists to office.

Are dictators without burning hatreds or territorial ambitions really a threat to our security? Unquestionably, the Shah of Iran was a tyrant with a vicious secret police -- but a tyrant who modernized his country, raised the status of women, served as a reliable ally and contributed to regional stability.

But Jimmy Carter -- who made human rights the cornerstone of his hapless foreign policy -- withdrew U.S. support of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and an Ayatollah replaced Shah. Compared to his successors, the Shah was a gentleman and a scholar.

The Palestinians had free elections a week ago. They endorsed the rule of Arafat's henchman, Mahmoud Abbas (a Holocaust denier) and elected a sizeable contingent of Hamas terrorists to their legislature. As a reward the President is asking Congress to bolster Palestinian "democracy" by contributing $350 million to this nation-building enterprise.

Does anyone outside Washington seriously believe that choosing their leaders democratically has altered the Palestinian mind-set? The populace of the so-called Palestinian Authority is every bit as dedicated to the total annihilation of Israel today as it was under Arafat.

It wasn't his torture and murder of innocent Iraqis, or his autocratic rule, that made Saddam Hussein a threat to our security, but his territorial ambitions (he'd invaded two of his neighbors in the space of a decade -- in one case causing a war that resulted in one million casualties), his support for terrorists (he subsidized suicide bombers and operated terrorist training camps) and his maniacal pursuit of WMD technology.

Still, apparently, American security isn't a sufficient justification for the presence of 150,000 U.S. forces in Iraq and the deaths of 1,440 Americans. Our intervention has to be cast as a noble crusade to bring the blessings of liberty to the Iraqis and their posterity.

Personally, I hope the Iraqis get their democracy. I was pleased to hear that the Shiite majority doesn't want a religious state -- for the time being.

But what if they did? What if a clear majority of Iraqis voted in a government that instituted Islamic law at its most virulent? What if the Shiite majority decided to stick it to the Sunni minority and the Kurds? What if they decided that they wanted to provide material support for jihads in other lands -- including re-establishing training camps for holy warriors? What if the democratically elected government if Iraq wanted an alliance with ayatollah-ridden Iran?

In all of these hypothetical situations, are we prepared to bow our heads and venerate popular sovereignty?

Anyone who believes it's impossible for a democracy to go off the deep end hasn't been paying attention to history.

Granted, representative governments generally don't start wars. (Neither do dictatorships, in most cases.) But democracies, by their abysmal governance, have given rise to warmongering, totalitarian states -- one thinks of the Kerensky Government in Russia and the Weimar Republic.

There's only one legitimate basis for American military intervention -- a clear and present danger to the United States. Charity begins at home, as the saying goes. Blood should not be shed over abstractions.

The idea that our safety ultimately lies in the worldwide triumph of democracy is a dangerous illusion. While our military resources are strained to the breaking point fighting for popular sovereignty and human rights in the Third World, what happens when a real threat comes along and we lack the means to respond?

These are questions that won't be discussed by knee-jerk isolationists or dyed-in-the-wool interventionists, who've substituted "isms" for analysis and clichés for facts. But they are questions that thoughtful Americans should be asking, regardless of their politics.

George W. Bush is a decent man. But a conservative he is not. Conservatives aren't utopians. Conservatives don't launch crusades. Conservatives know that human flaws make tragedy -- including tragedy on a national scale -- inevitable. Conservatives don't hold out the possibility of heaven on earth. Conservatives have limited ambitions -- protecting this nation's sovereignty, restoring representative government here and improving the human condition gradually.

An aside:  I wish the President were less concerned with exporting democracy and more committed to countering the precipitous decline of democracy at home -- due to the rise of an imperial judiciary.

An international crusade for democracy and human rights?

For me, our sixth President, John Quincy Adams, a fellow Massachusetts man, said it best: "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will (America's) heart, her benediction, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

Don Feder is a former syndicated columnist.  He is the President of Don Feder Associates, a media consulting firm. This essay is the text of a speech delivered at Carlton College on February 4, 2005.

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