Was John Edwards right about the war on terrorism being a bumper-sticker slogan? To the extent that this statement trivializes the threat we face from Islamic extremists, absolutely not. I wonder, however, if in the desire to achieve stability in the Middle East we have unwisely propped up dictators and terrorist sympathizers, to achieve the stability we want to have there without taking the risk of transformational change that the promotion of human rights and freedom would produce in a society. It is fair to ask if the United States government really believes the foreign policy philosophy introduced by Bush 43, or whether we are serious about supporting those in other countries who are struggling to make a break from oppressive government control of their lives.
I was reading a Washington Post story about the problems Musharraf is having in Pakistan right now, and one line just stuck out in the opening grafs: “To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, including democracy.” Is President Bush resigned to the idea that stability is more important than democracy? Some of the moves he has made would appear to suggest this, such as supporting a dictator like Musharraf, and it’s understandable that at this point in his political life, he’s looking for a quick fix to Iraq and to the Middle East. The President knows what needs to happen (the promotion of free societies), but he doesn’t know how to accompany that with consistent policies in holding countries accountable for human rights violations in exchange for financial and political support from the United States.
We say all the right things about freedom and democracy, and wanting to encourage opposition to dictatorships and Islamic theocracies, but maybe we could be doing more policy-wise to support those who oppose these type of governments. I’m not talking about American-led regime change in Iran or North Korea. What I’m talking about is finding ways to bring some accountability to oppressive regimes by withholding foreign aid and making all support conditional on verifiable improvement in the lives of the people under those governments. The problem that the US has in doing this is the international community and (with only a few exceptions) their tendency toward appeasement, the quick fix, and their application of a few Band-Aids on this serious flesh wound.
Does the international community have the desire to stand against terrorism and to provide accountability for oppressive regimes? Look at their record. Look at the massive failure of the UN to keep Saddam in check. Those who want to put the fate of the United States in the hands of the UN are beyond blissfully ignorant. We must protect our own interests and our own sovereignty because no other country will do that for us. What most of Europe still fails to realize is that we have a common interest in promoting free societies and democracy around the world. It is naïve beyond belief to think that just because a country hasn’t been hit yet that it could never, and it would never happen to that country. We must be proactive here, and we do need to approach this diplomatically, but carrots without any sticks will never produce the desired results. There is an opportunity to be grasped here, if we will take advantage of it.
Such an effort cannot succeed without the support of the American people. I fear that this may be a harder sale to make to them because of the struggles we are having in Iraq, but our next President must be willing to make the tough choices and to explain them to the people of this country. I hope we will end up with a President who will continue to support those who fight against oppression, no matter what country they come from, and that America will never lose its will to take on tough challenges.