The Freedom Crusade, Revisited

The Freedom Crusade, Revisited

Mini Teaser: Leslie H. Gelb, Daniel Pipes, Robert W. Merry and Joseph S. Nye offer their reactions to Robert W. Tucker and David Hendrickson on the Bush Doctrine.

by Author(s): Leslie H. GelbDaniel PipesRobert W. Merry

As for the "pothole theory of democracy"-the idea that the imperatives of governance will absorb the attention of extremists and reduce them to moderation-it has never worked. Mussolini made the trains run on time, the Soviets cleared the snow efficiently, and the Islamists can likewise do well practically, even as they nurse their ambitions.

Voting should not start the democratization process, as has been the case in the Middle East of late, but culminate it. For democracy to take root means leaving behind the bad habits of tyrannical rule and replacing them with the benign ways of civil society. This includes such difficult steps as creating voluntary institutions (political parties, lobby groups and so on), entrenching the rule of law, establishing freedom of speech, protecting minority rights, securing private property and developing the notion of a loyal opposition.

For Iraq, this tempered approach implies lowering expectations, for building democracy will likely require decades, especially because Iraqis do not accept American guidance. And so, as I have argued since early 2003, we should have accepted a democratically minded strongman. The Iraqi population has unquestionably benefited from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but remaking Iraq in the American image is the wrong standard by which to judge the coalition venture there. From the U.S. point of view, the immediate goal in Iraq is a regime that does not endanger America. Protecting themselves, not creating a better Iraq, is why taxpayers spend and soldiers fight.

The president was overly harsh in arguing, as he did in November 2003, that sixty years of "excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe." The old approach did have faults, creating problems that worsened over time, but it must not be summarily thrown out. Stability does have some virtues.

A new foreign policy calling for the gradual democratization of the region requires programmatic details, financial support and consistent execution if it is to be successful. Americans, in brief, need to learn to be patient and modest idealists.

Daniel Pipes ( is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures: Views of Islamic and Middle Eastern Politics (2003). He is also a member of the Advisory Council of The National Interest.

Robert W. Merry:

DEEP IN "The Freedom Crusade", Messrs. Hendrickson and Tucker employ a word that captures, more than any other in their penetrating essay, the essential foolishness of the George W. Bush foreign policy. It emerges within a discussion of what they call "the general lesson"-that no nation can seek to delegitimize regimes and make their demise a declared policy objective while at the same time expecting to reach agreements with those regimes on vital issues. We may need to cooperate with states whose civic structures we despise in order to minimize external threats.

Of course, they aver, anyone is free to imagine a world in which all regimes are free and democratic, and conflict among peoples ceases to generate violence. They add: "On this side of utopia, however, security arrangements . . . need to be made with existing regimes."

And there it was: utopia. The word popped off the page like the smart crack of a whip. We have a president whose view of the world is distinctly utopian. As Hendrickson and Tucker point out, not even Woodrow Wilson was willing to expand his dreamy desires to salve the hurts and wounds of humanity into a hegemonic vision of the kind that drives this president. That's because not even Woodrow Wilson was willing to venture so boldly beyond this side of utopia.

Where, we might ask, did Bush get this utopian vision? After all, he is a president who embraces the conservative label. And, as Samuel Huntington of Harvard University wrote a half-century ago, "No political philosopher has ever described a conservative utopia." Bush of course is no political philosopher. But neither is he a true conservative. He is simply a product of his time, a child of the zeitgeist that descended upon America at the end of the Cold War.

Utopianism emerged out of that hoary Western idea of "progress", the notion that history is the story of mankind's inexorable rise from blindness and folly to ever higher levels of civilization and enlightenment-and that, since this progress is part of the human condition, it will continue as long as mankind resides on earth. Along the way, many thinkers and intellectuals found that the idea of progress as part of the human condition was leaving them cold. If progress would continue forever, they asked, how do we know where it is going? How do we even know it is going in a good direction? No, they concluded, it was going to a particular end point, a culmination of human development. And they could reveal what that was because it happened to be their own vision of nirvana on earth.

Thus was born Western utopianism, father of Hegelianism, Marxism and any number of other gauzy visions of human culmination. And, with the end of the Cold War, this outlook clutched the American consciousness. It is reflected in Francis Fukuyama's famous 1989 "End of History" essay in this magazine-which has had far more lingering influence than anything Fukuyama has written since, including subsequent musings that seem to question his own endist thesis. It is reflected in Thomas Friedman's dreamy glorification of "globalization" as the final universal culture, which turns out to be essentially American culture. Both men saw a new era of relative world peace emanating from their particular visions.

And this utopianism is reflected in George Bush's foreign policy, so effectively punctured by Hendrickson and Tucker. Whereas the Bush Administration's utopian vision sees Iraqi democracy as a spur to the larger democratization of the entire Arab world, they write that "the persistent anarchy that has enveloped Iraq makes it an example to be avoided rather than emulated."

The authors begin their assessment by establishing that Bush does indeed embrace a "crusader state" outlook. That is the easy part. The president's own words make the case. More difficult-and more seminal-is the question of whether America was founded as a missionary democracy mandated by destiny to spread freedom around the world. Bush of course believes the advancement of self-government "is the mission that created our Nation."

Hendrickson and Tucker demolish this conceit, demonstrating that our Founders and those who helped shape and mold our republic in the early decades never embraced any such missionary impulse. On the contrary, they believed such an outlook-nakedly embraced by many French officials at that time-ran counter to the essential American creed that every nation should be free to adopt whatever civic structure it desired. True, say the authors, from the beginning our Founders saw universal applicability in the principles underlying American democracy, "yet this belief existed happily alongside the idea that the United States had neither a right nor a duty to bring others to an appreciation of these truths through force."

All this changed with Woodrow Wilson, whose presidency, say the authors, "marked a departure from the classic doctrine in certain respects." True. But it is here, in the authors' discussion of Wilson and subsequent Wilsonians that one may introduce a quibble. They let Wilson off rather easy, and they see in the Reagan Doctrine a greater departure from the country's historical norms than would seem appropriate.

"Only with the Reagan Doctrine", they write, "was the nation's power openly and directly committed to extending freedom through force." Thus they see Reagan as a progenitor of Bush. This is false. Like Lincoln, who subordinated all other issues to the imperative of saving the Union, Reagan subordinated all other foreign policy issues to the imperative of winning the Cold War. The spread of freedom in and of itself was never an animating impulse.

Indeed, as a presidential candidate in 1979, Reagan embraced Jeanne Kirkpatrick's influential Commentary article excoriating the Carter Administration for attempting to force democratic reforms on America's autocratic allies. Democracy couldn't be established in such countries within any reasonable time span, she argued, and thus Carter's actions would only lead to greater global instability and greater harm to U.S. interests. Reagan bought this argument completely.

Or consider Reagan's reluctance to destabilize the Marcos regime in the Philippines, even after serious questions had been raised about its legitimacy and longevity. One perceptive historian, James Mann, has described in dramatic detail the actions taken by Reagan's staff and some members of Congress to overcome his resistance to deposing Marcos to enhance democratic prospects there.

The Reagan Doctrine was a direct response to the Brezhnev Doctrine, which held that no country defined as "communist" would be allowed to change that status. Reagan could see that accepting this doctrine left America at a distinct disadvantage in the Cold War, perpetually on the defensive in seeking to prevent countries from going communist while the Soviets could concentrate on offensive efforts to bring more nations under their influence.

Moreover, however novel in its directness, the Reagan Doctrine was not really a significant departure from past policy. To argue otherwise is to ignore significant Cold War history in such places as Guatemala, Iran and Cuba-all sites of American action aimed at overthrowing real or perceived hostile regimes.

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