It's early morning in western Maryland. Cold light filters through trees just starting to drop their leaves as I sip my first cup of coffee at the dining room table. Since I quit blogging at VC, it's hard to summon any enthusiasm for writing. Staunchly, I go through the motions anyway, pouring over my RSS feed. Somewhere lies the thread, I know, that will make sense of the madness which grips our nation's capitol these days.
Everywhere I look, I see my country disappearing down the rabbit hole. Eyes fixed on a train wreck of an investigation that after two years, failed to yield a single indictment arising from the charging statute. Harry Reid is outraged. You see, I. Scooter Libby lied to the FBI. He tried to discredit Jumpin' Joe Wilson - a real American Hero. Except Joseph Wilson seems to have lied to the Washington Post. And to the American people... about a great many things. According to the SSCI Report:
"The former ambassador also told Committee staff that he was the source of a Washington Post article ("CIA Did Not Share Doubt on Iraq Data; Bush Used Report of Uranium Bid," June 12, 2003) which said, "among the Envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because `the dates were wrong and the names were wrong." Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong" when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports. The former ambassador said that he may have "misspoken" to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were "forged.""
"Misspoken", we are given to understand, is the Foggy Bottom euphenism-du-jour for "lied". Or for the more forgiving, "flung a lot of accusations about, without any factual basis for doing so".
Joe Wilson also lied about the White House having seen his report. In due course, he fessed up to the Senate that he'd had no way of knowing who was on the distribution list for "what he didn't learn" in Niger:
"The former ambassador told Committee staff that he had no direct knowledge of how the information he provided was handled by the CIA, but, based on his previous government experience, he believed that the report would have been distributed to the White House and that the Vice President received a direct response to his question about the possible uranium deal."
Later in the SSCI report, Mr. Wilson's accusation that Dick Cheney's office had seen (and distorted) his findings is directly refuted by... the CIA:
Because CIA analysts did not believe that the report added any new information to clarify the issue, they did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers. For the same reason, CIA's briefer did not brief the Vice President on the report, despite the Vice President's previous questions about the issue.
But never mind. Facts tend to interfere with what's really important: the outrage. In The Holy Gospel According To Father Joe, the White House "manipulated" intel they never received. That's what makes those neo-cons so dangerous, folks. They're so devious, they distort information before they even see it.
Where's is Senator Reid's outrage, I wonder? Like Walter Pincus of the Washington Post (reigning Guinness World Record holder for writing the most articles on Joe Wilson without mentioning the SSCI investigation that documents the numerous holes in his story), he's been taken in by a second-rate con man.
Will no one raise their eyes a moment from the weeds and look at the big picture? We are engaged in a titanic struggle for the future of this nation. No, not the one in Iraq. Here. Now.
What is this great nation about? What is our purpose? We are the wealthiest, the most powerful, the most fortunate of peoples. We have it in our power to do great good. Or great harm. Or even, as Edmund Burke once warned good men must not do in the presence of evil, nothing at all. What shall we do with our great good fortune?
What is our destiny?
In 1821, then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams stated that the United States "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." This maxim is now widely quoted by cynical men in defense of the indefensible. The Founding Fathers themselves would not have lifted a finger to depose Saddam Hussein, they boldly assert. But there were other Adamses. Earlier ones. Samual Adams, for instance, who once averred:
"We may look up to armies for our defense, but virtue is our best security," Adams wrote. "It is not possible that any State should long remain free, where virtue is not supremely honored."
Bold words, from a bold man. And indeed the tension between a healthy respect for human rights and a regard for our own self-interest need not paralyze us. Many students of foreign policy maintain that the two need not be mutually exclusive:
"I would argue that you can pay attention to real concerns and still see human rights as an important part of foreign policy," Joseph Nye, the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said in a telephone interview. "But while human rights is part of foreign policy, it isn't foreign policy in itself, because a foreign policy is an effort to accomplish several objectives: security, economic benefit as well as humanitarian benefits. "In the past, the realistic tradition excluded human rights as idealism. But realists thinking only of power and idealists thinking only of morality create a false dichotomy. The question is not an either/or one; it is one of implementation; how do you do it?"
This is a question not lost on the reckless, unilateralist cowboys of the Bush administration. What are we to make of this sinister cabal of cynical, hard-eyed realists intent on propelling the nation headlong into an ill-considered war; (alone and friendless save for that ragtag, coerced, bullied and bribed coalition of over 30 democratic nations so despised by John Kerry because it is sneered at by Oil-for-Saddam nations like France) a move for which he is now being roundly criticized by a coalition of odd bedfellows: the formerly idealistic Left, who seem to have shed their now-inconvenient zeal for human rights, and cynical, hard-eyed, realists like Brent Scowcroft, who want the City on a Hill to hide her light under a bushel.
This coldbloodedness is a trademark of this nation's most doctrinaire foreign policy "realist." Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy: The only thing that counts is how countries interact, not what's happening inside. You care not a whit about who is running a country. Whether it is Mother Teresa or the Assad family gangsters in Syria, you care only about their external actions, not how they treat their own people.
Realists prize stability above all, and there is nothing more stable than a ruthlessly efficient dictatorship. Which is why Scowcroft is the man who six months after Tiananmen Square toasted those who ordered the massacre; who, as the world celebrates the Beirut Spring that evicted the Syrian occupation from Lebanon, sees not liberation but possible instability; who can barely conceal a preference for Syria's stabilizing iron rule.
Even today Scowcroft says, "I didn't think that calling the Soviet Union the 'evil empire' got anybody anywhere." Tell that to Natan Sharansky and other Soviet dissidents for whom that declaration of moral -- beyond geopolitical -- purpose was electrifying and helped galvanize the movements that ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.
It was not brought down by diplomacy and arms control, the preferred realist means for dealing with the Soviet Union. It was brought down by indigenous revolutionaries, encouraged and supported by Ronald Reagan, a president unabashedly dedicated not to detente with evil but to its destruction -- i.e., regime change.
Ironically, men like Scowcroft are what the angry Left accuse George Bush of being: cynics. And Bush, oh, irony of ironies! is that most dangerous of creatures: an idealist who has figured out how to marry idealism and practicality. Hold on America: it's going to be a bumpy ride. Historian John Lewis Gaddis articulates what he calls Bush's grand vision for America's destiny:
The validity of that assumption became a lot clearer on January 30th, when even in the face of persistent insecurity, literally at the risk of their lives, Iraqis who’d not had the opportunity to vote in a free election for decades turned out to do so in percentages that compare favorably with the number of Americans who turned out to vote in their own far safer presidential election last November.
So while there may still be all kinds of disagreement about what kind of government will be best for Iraq, there is apparently agreement about one thing: tyranny is not that form of government.
That much the Bush administration has accomplished, and let us be clear about how that happened: without the invasion of Iraq – and without the sacrifices of a lot of Iraqi and American and British lives – it would never have happened. As even The New York Times, at last, has got around to admitting.
Are the costs worth it? Only time will tell, but as the President commented in his inaugural address – in what was surely the first time Dostoyevsky has ever been quoted in one – a fire has been ignited in the minds of men. And if recent events in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Egypt, Ukraine, and even Kyrgysystan are any indication, that fire is spreading.
All right, my students and even some colleagues have argued, but isn’t idea of ending tyranny a departure from the more sensible policies the United States has followed in the past?
No way: there were echoes in Bush’s speech of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, FDR’s Four Freedoms, the Truman Doctrine, Kennedy’s inaugural, Reagan’s 1982 speech to the British Parliament, and any number of speeches by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
What is new is this: previous presidents tended to distinguish between ideals and interests. The expansion of freedom was an aspiration – but the interests of the United States lay elsewhere: in securing independence, suppressing secession, winning world wars, containment, deterrence, the maintenance of a balance of power, the promotion of capitalism, the encouragement of predictably pro-American regimes elsewhere, even if they didn’t meet our own standards for representative government and the defense of human rights.
Bush has now conflated ideals and interests. As he put it in the inaugural: “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” Freedom itself is to be the strategy, not just the aspiration. It may, in this sense, be radical. It is hardly un-American.
But isn’t it impractical? However will we get to the point of ending tyranny throughout the world? How will we ever afford it, given our overstretched finances and our even more overstretched military?
That’s where Bush’s view of history comes in. As he pointed out in the inaugural address, the past four decades been defined by “the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen.” It is, he added, “an odd time” to doubt the continuation of this trend.
Or, to put it in terms my friend and neighbor Paul Kennedy – a former bookie’s runner – would be familiar with: if you had to place a bet on which form of government will expand its reach over the next four years – or, if you prefer, the next forty – where would you put your money: on the growth of tyranny, or on its further decline?
The test of a good grand strategy is to align itself with trends already underway, so that you minimize, as much as possible, what Clausewitz called “friction.” My bet is that we’ll encounter more friction from now on if we support tyrants than if we resist them. So it does seem to me that the Bush administration has placed its bet in the right place.
Doesn’t the Bush grand strategy violate John Quincy Adams’s great principle that “the United States goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy”?
Not really, and this brings us back to 9/11. Because the danger now is that the monsters from abroad, if nothing is done to counter them, will seek to destroy us here at home.
The trend in global politics is indeed toward democracy, but the trend could be reversed by just a few more well-placed attacks on the scale of 9/11 or greater, whether in this country or elsewhere. In this sense, the world itself is now like Iraq, in which the depredations of a few place all at risk.
Given the choice, the President insists, people will choose freedom. But tyrants and terrorists – even just a few of them – could still deny that choice for many if they were to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction.
If we wait for them to act, it will be too late. That’s why it’s necessary now – as it has not been in the past – to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
I suspect that even John Quincy, no shrinking violet, when confronted with this choice would have seen its logic. So this is where we are: with great power has come a great aspiration, which is to end tyranny throughout the world.
The historians will decide, in the end, whether it meets Spiderman’s test of great responsibility – but this historian, for one, is leaning in the direction of saying, yes it does. It would be irresponsible, I think, to have such great power, and not to try to use it in this way.
Bush, unlike Scowcroft, liked Natan Sharansky's "The Case for Democracy". Contrary to the conventional wisdom, he does read books. In fact, Mr. Bush told the Washington Times,
“If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky’s book ‘The Case for Democracy.’ . . . It’s a great book.”
And what does Natan Sharansky, a Soviet dissident, a Reagan-era freedom-fighter, think about democracy?
Sharansky argues that the United States would best serve its own interests by choosing as allies only countries that grant their citizens broad freedoms, because only democracies are capable of living peacefully in the world. In Kiev, “America had missed a golden opportunity,” Sharansky wrote in a chapter criticizing the President’s father. George H. W. Bush’s Administration, he said, “was not the first nor will it be the last to try to stifle democracy for the sake of ‘stability.’
Stability is perhaps the most important word in the diplomat’s dictionary. In its name, autocrats are embraced, dictators are coddled and tyrants are courted.” In September, Sharansky was in Washington at the invitation of Condoleezza Rice; he gave the closing speech at a State Department conference on democratization. “Can you believe it?” he said to me just before the session. “Rice gave the opening speech and I give the closing?”
Of his complicated relations with the Bush family, he said, “A few days after my book comes out, I get a call from the White House. ‘The President wants to see you.’ So I go to the White House and I see my book on his desk. It is open to page 210. He is really reading it. And we talk about democracy. This President is very great on democracy.
This is a President who is betting on democracy. He's not in it for the short term. He is betting on the impetus of history. And when you take the broad view, the sweeping movement of time is moving towards freedom.
But democracy is a hothouse flower. In a world where men are willing to gas entire villages, to fill mass graves with innocent women and children, to feed human beings - feet first - into plastic shredders, to strap bombs to young boys to keep a fledgling nation from voting: in such a world, the movement toward freedom can all too easily be reversed, can't it?
Half a world away, an ancient people who once slumbered have awoken. They are beginning to believe they too can be free. They are beginning to fight. A fire has been lit in the hearts of men and, for the first time in that part of the world, in the hearts of women, too.
The question is, will we let that fire go out?
Some men say yes. The "realists" among us would make a graveyard and call it peace.
And then there are those cold, steely-eyed idealists. Men who say not just no, but "Hell, no". Men who are willing to give their lives to see freedom take hold in a faraway land. The question then becomes, who are we? What is America? What does it stand for? Are those words in the Declaration of Independence worth anything? Were they written in ink, or scrawled in the blood of patriots?
What do we believe? Only time will tell.
In the time of Pericles, Aspasia of Miletus, a very wise woman, is rumored to have said, "Peace is for the graveyard."
Give me freedom, and the power to determine my own future. And give me neighbors who want those things, too. Like George Bush, I am willing to bet on democracy. On freedom. That is what I want for my children. For my grandchildren. And I'm willing to bet the rest of world is not so much unlike us. We are all, in the end, human beings.
Who would willingly live under a tyrant's yoke, just for the sake of stability?
Not Brent Scowcroft, I'll wager. But then he doesn't have to, does he?