The Washington Times
At West Point on Saturday, President Bush gave his richest account yet of what we are fighting for. He in effect proclaimed what my Hoover Institution colleague Michael McFaul has called a liberty doctrine, wherein American power has been harnessed not just for the purpose of the protection of the United States, but also to the protection and spread of liberty across the globe.
Mr. Bush quoted a line from Gen. George Marshall’s address to the West Point class of 1942, six months after Pearl Harbor: “We’re determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand, and of overwhelming power on the other.” Mr. Bush broadened Marshall to universalize the message: “Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom.”
The American flag will no longer be just “a symbol of freedom.” It is insufficient, in Mr. Bush’s formulation, for the United States to devote American power to ensuring the survival and prosperity of the United States as an exemplar of the blessings of liberty. It is also necessary to set American power to the task of promoting and protecting the freedom of others.
Here is the crux of Mr. Bush’s liberty doctrine: “Our nation’s cause has always been larger than our nation’s defense. We fight, as always, for a just peace – a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.”
He elaborated, “The twentieth century ended with a single surviving model of human progress, based on non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women and private property and free speech and equal justice and religious tolerance. America cannot impose this vision – yet we can support and reward governments that make the right choices for their own people. . . . And we will defend the peace that makes all progress possible.
“When it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women, there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And their governments should listen to their hopes.”
I can’t say I ever thought I’d be writing about such a thing in a newspaper column, but what you see in those two paragraphs is the White House firmly aligning itself with Francis Fukuyama’s universalist “end of history” vision of the spread of the recognition by human beings of each other as free and equal – and against Samuel P. Huntington’s depiction of a “clash of civilizations,” in which the growing power of specifically Western liberal societies will inevitably be met with violent challenges from other societies with very different, anti-liberal values.
In Mr. Bush’s view, there is only one “civilization.” But this doesn’t make those who aren’t part of it barbarians; rather, they are victims of oppression at the hands of their rulers. Mr. Bush’s point here is that the tyrants themselves know perfectly well that they have no right to oppress their people, and that their persistence in doing so has produced only their own weakness. “A truly strong nation will permit legal avenues of dissent,” he said. “An advancing nation will pursue economic reform, to unleash the great entrepreneurial energy of its people. A thriving nation will respect the rights of women.”
By implication, nations whose governments fail in these areas will be weak, will not advance, and will fail to thrive. The justification for the power that “civilization” brings to bear in a war against terrorism and for liberty is precisely that liberty is the ground of the success and therefore the power of the civilized world. Tyranny produces the weakness that makes it vulnerable to freedom.
Mr. Bush looked forward to “a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.” Presidents have announced wars to end war before, and it is easy to mock this as a peculiar American conceit. But wait: Didn’t World War I end centuries of dynastic conflict in Europe? And didn’t the outcome of World War II ensure that European nations wouldn’t fight among themselves and that the United States would never again have to fight Germany and Japan? Those sentiments weren’t silly; they led, in fact, to the partial actualization of the “just and peaceful world” Mr. Bush described. Whether we knew it or not, the liberty doctrine has taken us a long way toward that world, and it can take us farther.