Ensuring a Legacy

Ensuring a Legacy

Mini Teaser: Bush will never run for office again. He should concentrate on applying his doctrine, not on defending his decisions.

by Author(s): Kim R. Holmes

However, given the fact that even such a threat may fail to deter the fanatical leaderships of North Korea and Iran, the United States must back up this strategy with a damage limitation component including active ballistic missile defenses. President Bush made significant progress in this regard over the past six years. He threw off the constraints of the anachronistic ABM Treaty, achieved a consensus in America on the need for missile defense, deployed ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California and secured funding to equip Aegis ships with defenses. We now have interceptors on at least three ships and more of them with radar capabilities-capabilities that were prohibited under the abm Treaty. By the end of his term we should have some thirty interceptors on at least six cruisers.

Yet much more can and must be done, given the increasing threat from terrorists and Iran and North Korea. To maintain and accelerate the momentum will require concerted leadership, particularly since we will need to expand sea- and space-based assets. We cannot predict where the first missile will come from, so we must invest in layers of defense from land to sea and sky.

Space may prove the most vital. Our satellites are critical for communications and surveillance-for detecting and tracking a missile launch and sending constant targeting data to a range of interceptors in time to destroy the missile. Closer to the launch is always better, so we must extend our situational awareness across space, which means having an array of smaller and lighter satellites that can operate autonomously through distributed satellite networks, and flexible responsive launch capabilities. Such a system cannot be completed in two years, but many of its critical components can be put in place without great expenditure. Visible and forceful leadership will be needed to cement political will and public support for this endeavor, no matter who controls Congress. In the end, no one leader or party will want to be held responsible for blocking technologies that could have prevented a missile attack.

Freedom versus Terror

President Bush has already established a lasting legacy in fighting terrorism by toppling the Taliban regime and breaking up Osama bin Laden's operational network. He also instituted a set of new laws and regulations on detainees, interrogations and surveillance, in an effort to give U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement officials the tools they need to combat terrorism. Though these steps are likely to be challenged by a Democratically controlled Congress, there is no doubt that in the War on Terror our laws and regulations will need to be refined to balance the needs of security with civil rights.

But victory in the War on Terror means more than these as well. It also means winning the war of ideas associated with this struggle.

We need to have a much better understanding of what motivates ideological fence-sitters on terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere. There are various demographic, national and religious views in the Muslim world that are scarcely understood by American policymakers. It simply will not do to conclude that because many Muslims are ambivalent about some parts of America's War on Terror, not to mention America's values as a society, they have written off our values of freedom and democracy. Islam-both as a religion and as a political movement-is going through a crisis and a revival at the same time. We need to better understand it before we can even think of influencing it. But to influence it, the 2006 National Security Strategy is right: We will need to counter the lies behind the terrorists' ideology by empowering people through political and economic reforms. And we must encourage many more responsible Islamic leaders to denounce the ideology that distorts and exploits Islam for destructive ends.

President Bush understands that it is not enough to denounce radical Islamism. His signature contribution to the ideological struggle in the War on Terrorism has been his forthright assertion that America should actively support the spread of freedom and democracy around the world. That agenda is essentially the ideological component of the war. It is both a long-range strategic goal and a short-term political tactic. It is intended to lay claim to the high moral ground against the terrorists, particularly the radical Islamic variety, but also to provide an alternative of hope to fence-sitters in the Middle East and elsewhere who may otherwise take inspiration from the fanatical haters of freedom and democracy.

This agenda has many critics, some of whom are as guilty of over-simplification as the administration is in its public pronouncements. It is true that sometimes the administration has failed to make a proper distinction between democracy and elections, as was the case in the administration's statements on the Palestinian elections. And it is also true that some of the soaring rhetoric of the administration's speeches have raised expectations that cannot possibly be met in the short run, if ever.

But it is also true that President Bush is not doing anything all that different from previous presidents, including Ronald Reagan who is far more the ideological progenitor of George W. Bush than Bush's father. He is essentially making the rather commonplace claim that, by and large, America's best friends (and most reliable partners) in the world are free, democratic countries. Moreover, not only would people around the world be better off if they lived under free and democratic governments with good governance and the rule of law, but Americans themselves would benefit.

There is only so much America can do to pursue that goal, but while trade-offs and hard choices must always be made, it would be better if America said this forthrightly rather than appear to be embarrassed by or indifferent to its values.

For this agenda to have any resilience, however, the president will have to make a number of adjustments. First, he must tone down the rhetoric about democracy in Iraq. While it is understandable that the administration tried to create a democratic government to fill the gap left by Saddam Hussein's demise, it unfortunately also tied his freedom agenda to the fate of the government in Iraq. America did not go to war in Iraq to establish democracy. It went to war to free America and the region from the potential threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of a rogue regime. Democracy was a second-order goal to meet the very real need to create some form of legitimate government to fill the power vacuum. It may or may not work in the short run, but if it does not, that should not mean that America has to abandon its general commitment to freedom, the rule of law, human rights, good governance and representative government.

Second, the administration will have to sort out the distinction between freedom as a long-range moral and strategic goal and democracy as a short-term political tactic. The two sometimes coincide, but they are just as often in conflict. Electing a government with a plurality or even majority of Islamist extremists does nothing for either freedom or democracy. In profoundly illiberal societies, elections are actually a danger to freedom and representative government. This hard fact is not easily understood and is difficult to capture in inspirational speeches. But it is a fact nonetheless. In the real world, sometimes the lesser of two evils is the best choice. The inability to handle that ambiguity unfortunately has hobbled both the president and the critics of his freedom agenda-the former in being unable to explain adequately why, for example, he opposes the "democratically elected" Hamas government, while the latter escape into irrelevant debates about "neoconservatism" and have an ideological meltdown because freedom and democracy are so difficult for some peoples to achieve.

In both cases some patience and historical perspective are in order. What cannot be achieved overnight may still be worth pursuing in the long run. What may cause instability in the short run may, when the time is right, be the only guarantee of stability in the long run. The key is in understanding both the difference in circumstances and the conditions of timing. There is no formula or one-size-fits-all model for advancing freedom around the world. The faster both the administration and its critics realize this, the better off America and the world will be.

Lastly, the administration needs to link its political freedom agenda to its economic agenda. It has missed a valuable opportunity to explain how freedom-political and economic-is indivisible. Free economic institutions-in the form of property rights, lower trade barriers and limited government intervention in the economy, for example-are absolutely necessary to eliminate poverty and raise living standards all over the world-and indispensable in reinforcing democratic political institutions and civil liberties.

The clock is ticking for the president. He has had considerable success in getting new free trade agreements, lowering trade barriers and using aid to help developing countries become more attractive to private investment. Yet Congress appears to be growing more hostile to free trade agreements. This puts at risk not only renewal of trade promotion authority (TPA) but approval of free trade agreements and progress at the World Trade Organization.

Essay Types: Essay