Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SOTU: "Freedom Is On The March"

The key foreign relations component of President Bush's State of the Union speech last night was the global march of democracy. It is now beyond dispute that this issue is the key to his foreign relations agenda for the second term. As he put it, "Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause."

Two sections in particular are worthy of note. First, is the historical progress of democracy in recent decades:
Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on Earth. Today, there are 122. And we are writing a new chapter in the story of self-government – with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan … and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink … and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations.
The other related to the messy state of affairs of the movement toward democracy in the Middle East:
The United States of America supports democratic reform across the broader Middle East. ... The great people of Egypt have voted in a multi-party presidential election – and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism. The Palestinian people have voted in elections – now the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace. Saudi Arabia has taken the first steps of reform – now it can offer its people a better future by pressing forward with those efforts. Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. The same is true of Iran... [O]ur Nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.
This portion of the speech is particularly revealing. Bush is clearly willing to take serious short-term risks in the Middle East in the hopes of long-term democratic reform.

There was one aspect of the speech that caused a definite disconnect for me. He clearly expressed a willingness to contextualize the spread of democracy in the Middle East, for democracy there must "reflect the traditions of their own citizens." But then he took the unusual step of sharply criticizing radical Islam. He stated that "No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam – the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death.... They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder."

The same disconnect was evident in his discussion of Iran. Bush tried to speak directly to the people of Iran, over the heads of the Iranian leaders, without pausing to recognize that it was an election that elevated the madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the position of President of Iran.

Of course, what we may see in the Middle East is a heartless system of democratic control, with elected leaders espousing radical Islam and arming themselves to the teeth with weapons of mass murder. The Arab street may yearn for freedom, but we may not warmly greet freedom's manifestation there. President Bush is trusting that the end result will be worth the risk.


Blogger boonelsj said...

I'm not sure I'd frame it as much as a case of Bush accepting short-term risks as one where Bush can't really do anything about these regimes so he might as well try to sound hopeful about the long-term. After all, what else can he do?

2/01/2006 12:19 AM  
Blogger randomopinion said...

Isn't it a bit naive to consider SOTU or any other official speech (by a political leader, in any state of the world) a relevant indicator of the policy that is going to be followed? In the past, fifty years ago, maybe; but nowadays, with all the parallel and hidden agendas that every state's leader has to simultaneously juggle with? How many times in recent history have we observed a flagrant contradiction between what was said to be official policy and what turned out to be actual policy a year later? How many more times will it take before we acknowledge that ths kind of speech is basically just another photo-op?

2/01/2006 9:40 AM  
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