Across the Bay

Monday, February 28, 2005

Young on American Democracy Promotion

I don't know why I didn't see this earlier, but it's a great piece by Michael Young dealing with how Bush's "simple, indeed simplistic, ideas can go a long way when expressing the frustration and anger of populations afflicted with tyrannies refusing to accord them even minimal respect."

Michael quotes president Bush's Brussels speech which noted: "The future of our nations, and the future of the Middle East, are linked—and our peace depends on their hope and development and freedom."

This rhetoric, which was dismissed by many, has found receptive ears in Lebanon. In fact, as Michael said: "It matters little where Syria's Lebanese foes stand in disputations over Bush's record, nor did voters in Iraq much care either; both populations took what was relevant to them, accepted Bush's broad sound bites of democratization, and carried the idea on from there according to their parochial interests."

This, until recently, was lost on many in the US. Michael had some words for them as well:

It is remarkable how Bush's critics, both from the political left and libertarian right, found themselves in a bind after the Iraqi election. Unlike Jumblatt, most scurried to a fallback position when their predictions of a fiasco proved wrong. A favored option was to warn that Washington had roused an Islamist monster. In that way the critics did a 180-degree turn: implying, initially, that the U.S. was avoiding democratic elections, then, when that proved wrong, that the elections would fail, and, when that again proved wrong, that elections should never have taken place because the victors were mullahs.

This magazine alone is proof that there is no consensus among American liberals (in the classical sense of the term) as to whether defense of liberty at home should somehow imply defending it abroad. As Christopher Hitchens bitingly observed in a 2001 Reason interview with Rhys Southan, when asked about why he was growing more sympathetic to the libertarian critique: "It's hard to assign a date. I threw in my lot with the left because on all manner of pressing topics—the Vietnam atrocity, nuclear weapons, racism, oligarchy—there didn't seem to be any distinctive libertarian view. I must say that this still seems to me to be the case, at least where issues of internationalism are concerned. What is the libertarian take, for example, on Bosnia or Palestine?"

Indeed, what is the libertarian take on Iraq or Lebanon? Or, for that matter, that of those leftist internationalists who cannot bring themselves, even temporarily, to walk in step with the Bush administration? Should the priority be freedom? Should it be to deny the president recognition for being true to his democratic word? Is American democracy an island, an isolated city on the hill that can be an inspiration but must not otherwise challenge the status quo buttressed by the prescriptions of national sovereignty?

"Who knows?" as Michael said. But one thing both he and I as well as "tens of thousands of marching Lebanese, and hundreds of thousands behind them" do know is that we're all "hoping the answer is more, not less, American interest in advancing [the Lebanese's] desired liberty, even as [the Lebanese] realize they are the ones who must take the lead."

And that they have done, and the whole world has seen it. Now don't abandon them.