The real democrat in the race
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This is how members of the so-called "realist" school of statecraft talk. Theirs is a cautious, managerial worldview, one that values what it sees as concrete interests much more highly than broad democratic ideals. Such an attitude has its virtues; it can temper idealism with prudence and keep policy makers from embarking on hopeless crusades.
But "realism" all too often results in a callous stance unworthy of the United States. It is what kept the first President Bush from publicly protesting when China's Communist government massacred pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square 15 years ago this week. It is what led him to send 400,000 troops to rescue Kuwait from Saddam Hussein -- and then order those troops to sit on their hands while Saddam brutally crushed a popular uprising against his murderous regime.
The problem with Kerry-Bush I Realpolitik is that the stability it champions is often beneficial only in the short term, and sometimes not even then. American backing for Middle Eastern dictatorships helped turn the region into an incubator of terrorism. The supposedly "realistic" decision to bolster Saudi Arabia's royal family by leaving thousands of US troops within its borders after the Gulf War inflamed an Islamist fanatic named Osama bin Laden. Iraq under Saddam was certainly stable. It was also a threat to its neighbors, a supporter of terrorism, and a savage violator of human rights.
Truman, JFK, and especially Ronald Reagan understood that an explicit policy of advancing democracy in the world advances America's interests as well. Bush II came to understand this only after 9/11, when he saw the horror that abandoning the Middle East to its unfree and undemocratic "stability" could lead to. Since then it has become the central pillar of his foreign policy and a key strategy in the war on terrorism.
A free and democratic Middle East will do more to make America secure in the long run than Kerry's focus on stability will. Whether Bush can make good on his vow to transform the region is very much an open question. It is an enormous undertaking, and Bush may fail. But his eye is on the right prize. His opponent's -- like his father's -- isn't.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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