George W. Bush : Unlikely prophet of democracy (and/or the rise of the lovely Condoleeza Rice)

Mar 10th, 2005 | By | Category: USA Today

bvoy16On Tuesday, March 8, 2005 the Globe and Mail in Toronto reported “Democracy key to beating terror, Bush says.” At this point it also looked as if current events in Lebanon were about to move President Bush’s growing reputation as a stand-up prophet of humanitarian democratic progress in the global village up a few more notches.

Then a March 9 online poll suggested that at least Globe and Mail readers, in the quasi-independent national blue state on democracy in America’s own northern border, remained skeptical. To the question “Do you think the Bush administration’s aggressive Middle East policies have had a net positive effect on the entire region?“, 70% of the more than 18,000 who finally chose to vote said No.

On March 10 yet another headline in the same newspaper suggested that scepticism of this sort was not entirely misplaced – “Lebanon’s Pro-Syrian PM reappointed.” I.e., the very latest Middle East developments had brought back into office the same bad guy who the democrats on “the Lebanese street” were supposed to have gotten rid off several days before – inspired, among others things, by the prophet in the White House far away.

This return of the ball to the pro-Syrian bad guys was also apparently supported by another group of democrats on the Lebanese street, even if some or even many of them did come from Syria itself or even Iran. (Lebanon is a country of less than four million people – or very roughly about the size of metropolitan Boston, or the much geographically larger province of British Columbia. The local supply of democratic demonstrators in any such place is not infinite.)

In the midst of all the resulting confusion, some excerpts from an academic think-piece published some five years ago now, by today’s still quite new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, may or may not shed a little additional light on George W. Bush’s real foreign policy in the year 2005. The article involved – entitled “Campaign 2000: Promoting the National Interest”- remains interesting enough in any case. It appeared in the January/February 2000 issue of the influential journal Foreign Affairs, and is still available on the net.

What I’ve done below is just reproduce four short excerpts from Ms. Rice’s piece, under summary headings of my own devising. For greater clarity her words are in italics. I have also suggested a few concluding remarks of my own at the end of the four excerpts, in ordinary type. In January/February 2000, when her comments here were first published, Condoleezza Rice was “Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University,” and “foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.”

* * * * * *

1. On the limitations of military might

The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society … A president … must ask whether decisive force is possible and is likely to be effective and must know how and when to get out

Sometimes tough, competent diplomacy in the beginning can prevent the need for military force later. Using the American armed forces as the world’s “911” will degrade capabilities, bog soldiers down in peacekeeping roles, and fuel concern among other great powers that the United States has decided to enforce notions of “limited sovereignty” worldwide in the name of humanitarianism. This overly broad definition of America’s national interest is bound to backfire as others arrogate the same authority to themselves.”

2. No sense of panic about North Korea (or even Iraq?)

As history marches toward markets and democracy, some states have been left by the side of the road. Iraq is the prototype. Saddam Hussein’s regime is isolated, his conventional military power has been severely weakened, his people live in poverty and terror, and he has no useful place in international politics. He is therefore determined to develop WMD. Nothing will change until Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him

One thing is clear: the United States must approach regimes like North Korea resolutely and decisively. The Clinton administration has failed here, sometimes threatening to use force and then backing down, as it often has with Iraq. These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. Rather, the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence – if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration.

3. Standing up for democracy in Taiwan

The Clinton administration tilted toward Beijing, when, for instance, it used China’s formulation of the “three no’s” during the president’s trip there. Taiwan has been looking for attention and reassurance ever since. If the United States is resolute, peace can be maintained in the Taiwan Strait until a political settlement on democratic terms is available

Some things take time. U.S. policy toward China requires nuance and balance. It is important to promote China’s internal transition through economic interaction while containing Chinese power and security ambitions. Cooperation should be pursued, but we should never be afraid to confront Beijing when our interests collide.

4. Acting in concert with those who share our core values

Foreign policy in a Republican administration will most certainly be internationalist … But it will also proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community. America can exercise power without arrogance and pursue its interests without hectoring and bluster. When it does so in concert with those who share its core values, the world becomes more prosperous, democratic, and peaceful. That has been America’s special role in the past, and it should be again as we enter the next century.

* * * * * *

Five years ago now is of course an eternity of sorts in the o-so-rapidly moving politics of the age of the internet and international terrorism. But serious foreign policy principles of the sort Ms. Rice adumbrates here are presumably supposed to be good for a few decades at least.

It also seems arguable that the first George W. Bush administration might have done rather better than it did, on assorted fronts, if it had been paying more real attention to Condoleezza Rice. (Or just how arguable is this, and just what is going to happen with the US and China now?)

In any case, a number of years ago, on US TV (the Jay Lenno show?), Arsenio Hall also memorably proposed that George W. Bush could not speak when Dick Cheney was drinking a glass of water. This may not actually be as true as many blue-state Canadians like to believe. But it remains a little hard not to wonder whether the glass has now been passed along to Ms. Rice.

And if this is even very remotely half-true, can it possibly do any good? George W. Bush seems at best an unlikely prophet of democracy in the global village. And, besides, as Condoleezza Rice did appear to say back in the year 2000, you don’t really need or even want to be flexing a lot of military muscle for this – as the Bush administration has almost certainly already done much more of than it needed to. But can President Bush in his second term still do some good anyway?

Perhaps the world remains an interesting and even somewhat hopeful place because we still don’t seem to have any definitive answers to such questions. And perhaps someone somewhere in Washington deserves some credit for that.

Meanwhile, until George W. Bush starts showing some serious concern about the health of democracy in the USA itself (where, to take just one small case in point, voter turnout in the 2004 presidential election was apparently no real improvement over the 2005 election in Iraq), many inside and outside his own country will probably continue to see him as an unlikely prophet of the core value of democracy in the early 21st century, whatever else may or may not be close enough for jazz.

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