The Washington Times
Last week in this space, I wrote about President Bush’s remarkable June 2 speech at West Point, in which he laid out, in effect, a liberty doctrine according to which the United States will no longer be satisfied to stand as a symbol of freedom and the success that flows from it, but instead will seek to protect and promote liberty in all parts of the world as the “single . . . model of human progress.”
I return to it this week because in rereading the speech, I see I hardly exhausted its richness, and because the speech hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves – as the founding document of a new international order with American power at its center and the spread of freedom as its aim. Put it this way: You have heard of the Monroe Doctrine, no? Manifest Destiny? The West Point speech, with its liberty doctrine, will be remembered for laying out something no less consequential than those.
This has yet to sink in, mainly, I think, out of the staying power of the venerable if cynical Washington posture of world-weariness, according to which there is nothing new under the sun, we’ve seen it all before, and therefore we are incapable of being surprised. This tendency is usually harmless, except that when something truly new does happen – such as a president of the United States, following on a devastating attack on U.S. territory, finding and enunciating a new purpose for U.S. power in the world – the commentary tends to lag a bit.
Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard is an exception in taking the speech with the seriousness it deserves. Mr. Barnes’ focus was largely the practical matter of the policy of pre-emption [actually, “prevention” is a better term] that Mr. Bush spelled out: The United States will not wait until it is attacked, or even until an attack is imminent, in order to act against a potential threat. “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge,” Mr. Bush said. The way Mr. Barnes reads Mr. Bush, and I agree, there is no chance Mr. Bush won’t order “regime change” in Iraq, for example.
Yet even here I think we’re running behind Mr. Bush’s vision. It’s possible, I suppose, that Mr. Bush doesn’t mean a word he says, or doesn’t understand what the implications of his statements are, or will soon be trimming his sails, but I think a more plausible explanation is that he says what he means and means what he says. Many times since September 11, he has said things that clearly imply the United States is taking preventive military action. What’s new is the unequivocal universalization of the idea of freedom and liberty he described. For Mr. Bush, there is no other “model of human progress.”
But this means that what the United States is now promoting with this liberty doctrine is not a model. It is the answer, and it is final.
This is to say two things at once. First, that those who think there is such a thing as another “model” or models or who are promoting some other way of life [Osama bin Laden, for example] are flatly wrong. Second, that they will fail. Any challenge they try to mount will be impeded by their inability to match the resources generated by “human progress.”
As Mr. Bush noted, in a statement that is sobering if not chilling in its implications, “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge – thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.” What Mr. Bush is saying here is that the United States will never allow a “peer competitor” [in the international relations lingo] to arise. We will never again be in a position of “superpower rivalry,” let alone a cog in a multilateral balance of power. The current vast imbalance in power promotes peace most effectively because it teaches governments that any aspirations they might have to pursue war are “pointless.”
Mr. Bush noted that “the great powers are also increasingly united by common values, instead of divided by conflicting ideologies. The United States, Japan and our Pacific friends, and now all of Europe, share a deep commitment to human freedom . . . In the past, great power rivals took sides in difficult regional problems, making divisions deeper and more complicated . . . We must build strong great power relations when times are good to help manage crisis when times are bad.”
Thus, essentially, the vision of a universalist, transnational civilization is on the march. “America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves – safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life.” And we have every intention of helping the “others” become part of us.