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The Anti-Conservatives

That George W. Bush would seek to embed the Iraq War in the higher cause of global democracy was to be expected. That is the way of wartime presidents.

By late 1863, Lincoln’s war to crush Southern secession was about whether “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall … perish from the earth.” By 1917, the European war whose causes Wilson professed not to understand in 1916 had become “the war to end all wars” and to “make the world safe for democracy.”

Leaders alchemize wars begun over lesser interests into epochal struggles for universal principles because only thus can they justify demands for greater sacrifices in blood and treasure. But Bush has gone Wilson one better. He is not only going to make the world safe for democracy, he is going to make the world democratic. Where Lincoln abolished slavery in the South, Bush is going to abolish tyranny from the earth: “So it is 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.”

A conservative knows not whether to laugh or weep, for Mr. Bush has just asserted a right to interfere in the internal affairs of every nation on earth. Why? Because the “survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” But this is utterly ahistorical. The world has always been afflicted with despots. Yet America has always been free. And we have remained free by following the counsel of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams and staying out of foreign quarrels and foreign wars.

Who is feeding the president this interventionist nonsense?

The president now plans to hector and badger foreign leaders on the progress each is making toward attaining U.S. standards of democracy. “We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and nation—the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.” This is a formula for “Bring-it-on!” collisions with every autocratic regime on earth, including virtually every African and Arab ruler, all the “outposts of tyranny” named by Secretary Rice, most of the nations of Central Asia, China, and Russia. This is a prescription for endless war. Yet as Madison warned, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Who and what converted a president who came to office with no knowledge of the world to the idea that only a global crusade for democracy could keep us secure? Answer: 9/11—and the neoconservatives.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Bush calls 9/11 the day “when freedom came under attack.” This is sophomoric. Osama did not send fanatics to ram planes into the World Trade Center because he hates the Bill of Rights. He sent the terrorists here because he hates our presence and policies in the Middle East. He did it for the same reason FLN rebels blew up cafes in Paris and Hamas suicide bombers blow up pizza parlors in Jerusalem.

From the Battle of Algiers to the bombing of the Beirut Marine barracks, from the expulsion of the Red Army by the mujahideen of Afghanistan to the expulsion of Israel from Lebanon by Hezbollah, guerrilla war and terror tactics have been the means Muslims have used to expel armies they could not defeat in conventional war.

The 9/11 killers were over here because we are over there. We were not attacked because of who we are but because of what we do. It is not our principles they hate. It is our policies. U.S. intervention in the Middle East was the cause of the 9/11 terror. Bush believes it is the cure. Has he learned nothing from Iraq?

In 2003, we invaded a nation that had not attacked us, did not threaten us, and did not want war with us to disarm it of weapons it did not have. Now, after plunging $200 billion and the lives of 1,400 of our best and bravest into this war and killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, we have reaped a harvest of hatred in the Arab world and, according to officials in our own government, have created a new nesting place and training ground for terrorists to replace the one we lately eradicated in Afghanistan.

Among those who have converted President Bush to the notion that without Arab democracy there can be no Mideast peace is Natan Sharansky, and much of what the famed Soviet dissident writes is undeniably true. Even inside the darkest despotism, people yearn for freedom. They hate tyranny and love liberty. They wish to live in lands that allow them to choose their own leaders. And as democratic rulers must return to the people for renewal of their mandates in free elections, they are more likely to seek the peace and prosperity their people desire. Thus, only democracy can pave the way to true peace and security. This is the message of Sharansky’s Case for Democracy, which the president has embraced and encouraged all to read.

But what is often true is not always true, and U.S. foreign policy, which is to protect U.S. vital interests and the peace and freedom of Americans, cannot be rooted in the idealism of an ex-Soviet dissident or the ideology of neoconservatives who promised us a “cakewalk” in Iraq and assured us we would be welcomed with flowers. Sharansky notwithstanding, democracy is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition of America’s peace and security, nor even of Israel’s.

In 1967, David Ben-Gurion told Richard Nixon and this writer he hoped Nasser would survive Egypt’s humiliation in the Six-Day War because only Nasser had the prestige to lead the Arabs to accept peace with Israel. Sadat was no democrat when Israel gave him back the Sinai and signed a peace. Arafat was no democrat when Rabin and Peres agreed to the Oslo Accords and shared a Nobel Prize with him. Assad was no democrat when Israel negotiated a truce with him on the Golan Heights. That truce has held. Nor was Khadafi a democrat when Bush agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Libya for the massacre of Pan Am 103 if Khadafi would surrender his weapons of mass destruction. Khadafi did, and Bush rightly claims this as a diplomatic success of his first term.

While it is true that the dictatorships of Franco, Pinochet, and Marcos gave way to democracies, that was not true of Batista, Somoza, or the Shah. When Carter undermined the Peacock Throne, we got the Ayatollah.

Urging Bush not to press Israel into making peace with the Palestinians until Palestine embraces democracy is a clever way to postpone peace indefinitely and let Israel expand its settlements and consolidate its hold over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That may be in Israel’s interest. But it is not in America’s interest. Sharansky’s idealism just happens to coincide with Sharon’s agenda. Can President Bush not see this?

America has old friendships and important interests in the Middle East that cannot await the dawn of democracy in the 22 Arab states where it currently does not exist. We cannot make the best the enemy of the good. And if democracy means rule by the people, how enthusiastic should we be about its introduction into the Middle East? In 1991, Algerians were given a democratic vote—and elected an Islamist regime. The army intervened, igniting a civil war that left 100,000 dead. President Bush might ask his father why he did not speak up for Algerian democracy then.

Unlike Eastern Europe, where communism was imposed on Christian countries with traditions of self-rule, democracy never took root in the Arab lands of the caliphate. Thus King Farouk’s ouster gave us Nasser. King Idris’s ouster gave us Khadafi. And King Feisal’s ouster gave us Saddam Hussein. How certain are we that if the kings of Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia fall, democracies will arise?

Given that the neocons were wrong on every count about Iraq, does Bush truly wish to gamble the Middle East on their confident predictions that, once the Arab monarchies fall, Western democracy will flourish among people who seem to revile Bush and revere Osama bin Laden?

After the shocked reaction in many quarters to the president’s inaugural address, the White House, George H.W. Bush, and later the president himself hastened to explain that there was nothing new or radical in the speech. Perhaps a sense of reality has already begun to manifest itself.

We are simply not going to stop buying Saudi oil or cut off our $2 billion in annual aid to Egypt or sever relations with Musharraf or sanction a China that could sink the dollar because these regimes refuse to make the reforms Bush demands. It is not going to happen. President Bush will either wind up eating his overblown rhetoric or following it over the cliff and taking us with him.

America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” said John Quincy Adams, “She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Under the tutelage of Jacobins who call themselves idealists, Bush has repudiated this wise core doctrine of U.S. foreign policy to embrace Wilsonian interventionism in the internal affairs of every autocratic regime on earth. We are going to democratize the world and abolish tyranny.

Giddy with excitement, the neocons are falling all over one another to hail the president. They are not conservatives at all. They are anti-conservatives, and their crusade for democracy will end as did Wilson’s, in disillusionment for the president and tragedy for this country.

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