A Promising Future?
Bush’s speech outlined a new foreign policy vision, but will he live up to his own words?
Bush’s 21-minute speech on Inauguration Day was one such larger moral vision, as he outlined a bold, expansive agenda for U.S. foreign policy. In it, he declared, quite frankly, that it is his goal to make it “the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Readily admitting that this is no four-year agenda, and indeed the “concentrated work of generations,” Bush refused to back down simply because the task is difficult. Instead, he said he plans to use all of America’s power and influence “confidently in freedom’s cause.”
This, of course, caused a bit of discord in various political circles. Liberals, beyond hating all things Bush, are afraid the president’s speech has undertones that imply his administration is planning on taking its heavy-handed international approach to even more hostile places in the world than Iraq—North Korea and Iran, of course, come to mind. After many months of unceasing conflict with insurgents in Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan, liberals are understandably skeptical about the efficacy and cost of such adventures. Those further left of the liberal establishment see even more sinister things at work in Bush’s speech, believing that this grand vision of global democracy is merely cover for the expansion of unregulated global capitalism and the exploitation that inevitably comes with it. This is especially true of a man whose ideological forebears (Ronald Reagan and George Bush I) installed a number of dictators and corrupt regimes in the name of ensuring democracy over communism. Even some of those on the right are hesitant to embrace Bush’s message, wondering aloud where the isolationist Texas governor who campaigned in 2000 is now. The cost of the Iraq war and the expansion of government in response to the war on terror have long troubled some principled conservatives, and the project of establishing democracies across the globe is something that would make them cringe.
I share some of those same concerns, but there is one overarching theme in Bush’s speech that both troubles me and gives me hope. While Bush mentions terrorism as one of the reasons we must pursue democracy across the world, it seems to be more of the catalyst to this whole enterprise. What grounds it philosophically is a belief that all human beings have equal moral worth and deserve democracy because it is an inherent good. This gives me hope because it is a profoundly humanist statement from a man who has been criticized for his irresponsibility with human life in Iraq and other places.
Bush, more so than a John Kerry or a Hillary Clinton, can hold the allegiances of the bloc of voters most likely to decry such humanist missions abroad. That gives him the political capital necessary to venture into forgotten places like Sudan or Haiti, where the moral worth of the people who live there is often denigrated by the American public and news media to the point where we view them as almost subhuman. The American public, as of right now, refuses to tolerate the loss of American soldiers and the general expense necessary to improve the lives of so-called third world citizens—perhaps Bush can appeal to his personal popularity in the Red States and the worth of the mission in the Blue States to garner the necessary support to get involved in the catastrophes in those nations.
But this optimism of course begs the question, if Bush is so committed to this vision, why has he not acted where he could have already? Why did he abandon the mission in Liberia? Where is the democratic institution building in Haiti? What about military intervention in Sudan? This also, of course, brings to the forefront concerns about how readily Bush violated Iraq’s sovereignty without the support of the global community—a trend that could not continue if this larger mission were to ultimately be successful. For some, Bush’s troubled relationship with the truth and his checkered past in the aforementioned regions are enough to destroy any faith they have in his intentions or willingness to carry out this plan. Such skepticism, in my opinion, is more than fair—but skepticism does not demand obstinate opposition, it merely demands vigilance on behalf of higher moral principles. Bush has taken the first step, and it was in the right direction. It is now up to those of us, red or blue, who are prone to moral posturing to seize on the president’s words and force him, and America at large, to live up to them.
Brandon M. Terry ’05 is a government and African and African American studies concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears regularly.