Cheat-Seeking Missles

Saturday, June 09, 2007

"A Nation With New World Eyes"

Thank goodness Condi Rice is the Sec. of State and not the Sec. of Labor; otherwise the keynote speech at the 100th anniversary of the Economic Club of New York surely would have been about immigration "reform" instead of the subject Condi delivered: The Promise of American Realism.

It's a beautiful speech, inspirational at a time when our foreign policy needs some inspiring, because, ironically, it deals with the ideals of American foreign policy more than the harsh reality we see on the ground.
American Realism is an approach to the world that arises not only from the realities of global politics but from the nature of America's character: From the fact that we are all united as a people not by a narrow nationalism of blood and soil, but by universal ideals of human freedom and human rights. We believe that our principles are the greatest source of our power. And we are led into the world as much by our moral ideas as by our material interests. It is for these reasons, and for many others, that America has always been, and will always be, not a status quo power, but a revolutionary power - a nation with New World eyes, that looks at change not as a threat to be feared, but as an opportunity to be seized.

American Realism recognizes that human beings are flawed and fallible by nature - and that makes democratic ideals more precious, and democratic institutions more important. American Realism affirms that decisions about war and peace, poverty and prosperity, depend as much on the domestic institutions of states as on the distribution of power between them. And it is a guiding conviction of American Realism that we achieve our greatest and most enduring goals when we unite power and purpose together - for, as Teddy Roosevelt said, "power undirected by high purpose spells calamity, and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking."
Condi, like Thomas Barnett (and me), believes robust capitalism and free markets are our most powerful weapon against evil dictatoriships and the politics of entropy. She sees the 20th and early 21st centuries as a time when our type of economy spread and the communist economy retreated, with a result realists like: More countries aligned with us because of positive life principles and healthier, happier lives.
So what must be our objective? I would suggest that it is indeed transformation: to expand the circle of well-governed states that enshrine liberty under the rule of law, that provide for their people, and that act responsibly in the international system. America cannot do this for other countries. Nor should we. It must be their choice, and their initiative. But we can help and we must help. This is partnership, not paternalism.
Which leads us inevitably to Iraq. Her description may have seemed a bit more rosy than realist:
And of course, in Iraq, on the frontlines of the war on terror, we are fighting for a democratic future for the Iraqi people and a safer future for us. I know that the American people are weary of the violence and the sacrifice. And so are ordinary Iraqis. Iraqis want democracy to work for them. They want their neighborhoods to be safe. And they want their country's future to belong to patriots, not to foreign terrorists. A stable Iraq will be a pillar of a different and better Middle East. And when we and our Iraqi partners succeed, it will have been because we clearly understood our interests, because we stayed true to our principles, and because we persevered to win the day.
I'm glad she spoke headstrongly about success in Iraq, a "when" not an "if." The Dems gave up on that as soon as the statues of Saddam fell, if not earlier, but if success is not our motivation, what motivation do we have left? Right. Nothing worth fighting for.

It is tough. Many, many days I look at the mess in Iraq and I wonder if the Iraqis are worth it. Then I realize I'm asking the wrong question. I should be asking, if freedom instead of Islamic repression is worth it. It's ideals we're fighting for, not individuals.

The decisions we have made since 2001 may look flawed in retrospect, but we should not be too quick to judge. As Condi said:

I also take optimism from our history in the world. In 1989 until 1991, I was lucky enough to be the White House Soviet specialist at the end of the Cold War. It doesn't get much better than that. I was there for the liberation of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany, and the beginnings of the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union. And it was a heady experience because every day you came in and the world was going our way. But I realized in retrospect that, of course, we were just harvesting good decisions that had been made in 1946 and 1947 and 1948.

I realized that it must have been very tough to see that vision of a future in 1946 when the question was not, could communism be stopped in Eastern Europe, but could communism be stopped in Western Europe; when the communists won 48 percent of the vote in Italy and 46 percent of the vote in France; when, in 1947, 2 million Europeans were still starving because of failed reconstruction, the Turks had civil conflict, the Greeks civil war; when, in 1948, a young Jewish state had to be recognized by Harry Truman; Germany permanently divided by the Berlin crisis; Czechoslovakia, the last free country in Eastern Europe, to fall to a communist coup; in 1949, when the Soviet Union exploded a nuclear weapon, five years ahead of schedule; the Chinese communists won their civil war; and, in 1950, the Korean War broke out.

I have to say that few would have thought that freedom was on the march in those days. And yet, somehow, because the architects of our great Cold War victory kept faith with our highest principles, supported them with national power, kept their optimism, and practiced a brand of distinctly American Realism. We had the chance in 1989 and '90 and '91 to see the emergence of the Europe for which they had hoped.

Certainly, Truman, Vandenburg, Marshall, Acheson, Kennan and Nitze were men who cast long, strong shadows across history. Heroes often look better from across a chasm of time.

Marshall delivered his Marshall Plan speech at Harvard 60 years ago this week; 60 years hence I hope America will be looking back at Bush, Rice, Bolton and Patraeus as giants whose vision, so questionable at the time, turned out to be the stuff of legend.

Because if that's not what we see, I'll be very glad that 60 years from now I'll be 117, and won't have to be living with the consequences.

hat-tip: Real Clear Politics

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