John Kerry is now on his way on his trip to the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Israel. (Although Iran is not on his itinerary, he also said he’d be happy to go there “when the time is right”. I’d be happy to send him there as well!)
All ‘botched jokes’ aside, it does take a certain amount of guts to show up in front of the troops after his ‘botched joke’. He does explain:
“I’ve talked to plenty of guys who’ve come back from Iraq, who are there now, who understand exactly what happened,” Kerry said of his joke in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. “They laugh at it.”
I wish they could explain it to me… but that’s another story.
Anyway, although Kerry says “Blame’s not where I’m at right now. Let’s get the policy right in Iraq.” … he’s now blaming Bush as soon as he landed in Egypt. I found part of that critique as reported by Reuters particularly interesting:
The U.S. administration of President George W. Bush has argued that high-level talks with Syria are pointless because the Syrians do not respond to U.S. policy requests.
But Kerry said: “That’s a mistake… It is nonsensical to set up not talking as some kind of reward/punishment barrier. I think we are shortchanging ourselves in that process.”
The senator also found fault with Bush’s campaign to make Middle East countries more democratic, which for a time was at the forefront of U.S. diplomatic rhetoric in the region.
“I don’t think it’s been particularly effective, in fact it has been counterproductive in certain quarters. It’s created turmoil and uncertainty,” he said.
“We will always be a nation that advocates democracy…but we need to be smart about the steps we take and the pace at which we demand people make transitions,” he added.
So Senator Kerry has asked a good question here. What should be the foreign policy of the United States? Do we actively promote democratic change in the region or return to a policy based on finding a strongman dictator to support.
We know which side outgoing U.N. honcho Kofi Annan would take. It was just the other day when he said he thinks life under Saddam must have been more pleasant:
In the BBC interview, Annan agreed when it was suggested that some Iraqis believe life is worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“I think they are right in the sense of the average Iraqi’s life,” Annan said. “If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison, that they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, ‘Am I going to see my child again?’
As James Taranto so accurately observed: “Annan isn’t just claiming that Saddam, though brutal, made the trains run on time. He is saying that Saddam actually looked out for the safety of the Iraqi people, the very people his regime was gassing, setting ablaze, tying to tanks, torturing and raping. Is Annan just ignorant, or is he depraved? We suppose it could be a little of both.”
But let’s get back to Kerry for a moment. He says the US should be a supporter of democracy. Except when it’s counterproductive. We should advocate, but not be demanding. We should approach transition, but not if there’s turmoil.
Which is it exactly? Maybe he’s saying he is for democracy before he was against democracy.
Reports of the death of the so-called “Bush Doctrine” have been circulating for years now. With the exit of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraq Study Group report, the pronouncements have been even louder.
You know, they say that the worst part of the ISG report is that it didn’t actually say anything new. In that spirit, I looked way back to May 2003 to a speech given by President Bush, when he discussed freedom in Iraq and Middle East.
So what do you think, is it feasible to even talk about increasing the spread of democracy?
A number of critics were dismissive of that speech by the President. According to one editorial of the time, “It seems hard to be a sophisticated European and also an admirer of Ronald Reagan.” (Laughter.) Some observers on both sides of the Atlantic pronounced the speech simplistic and naive, and even dangerous. In fact, Ronald Reagan’s words were courageous and optimistic and entirely correct. (Applause.)
The great democratic movement President Reagan described was already well underway. In the early 1970s, there were about 40 democracies in the world. By the middle of that decade, Portugal and Spain and Greece held free elections. Soon there were new democracies in Latin America, and free institutions were spreading in Korea, in Taiwan, and in East Asia. This very week in 1989, there were protests in East Berlin and in Leipzig. By the end of that year, every communist dictatorship in Central America had collapsed. Within another year, the South African government released Nelson Mandela. Four years later, he was elected president of his country — ascending, like Walesa and Havel, from prisoner of state to head of state.
As the 20th century ended, there were around 120 democracies in the world — and I can assure you more are on the way. (Applause.) Ronald Reagan would be pleased, and he would not be surprised.
That’s fine, you might say, but many of those countries were escaping Soviet rule. The Middle East is not like that. Democracy can’t work in a society like theirs.
Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This “cultural condescension,” as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would “never work.” Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, “most uncertain at best” — he made that claim in 1957. Seventy-four years ago, The Sunday London Times declared nine-tenths of the population of India to be “illiterates not caring a fig for politics.” Yet when Indian democracy was imperiled in the 1970s, the Indian people showed their commitment to liberty in a national referendum that saved their form of government.
Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are “ready” for democracy — as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress. It teaches cooperation, the free exchange of ideas, and the peaceful resolution of differences. As men and women are showing, from Bangladesh to Botswana, to Mongolia, it is the practice of democracy that makes a nation ready for democracy, and every nation can start on this path.
But, like Kerry and Annan, you might point out that removing the dictator was a dangerous thing to do. It caused turmoil. And, by the way, there are not guarantees. There’s risk involved.
Champions of democracy in the region understand that democracy is not perfect, it is not the path to utopia, but it’s the only path to national success and dignity.
As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not, and should not, look like us. Democratic nations may be constitutional monarchies, federal republics, or parliamentary systems. And working democracies always need time to develop — as did our own. We’ve taken a 200-year journey toward inclusion and justice — and this makes us patient and understanding as other nations are at different stages of this journey.
There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture. Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military — so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of an elite. Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selecting applying — selectively applying the law to punish political opponents. Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions — for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media. Successful societies guarantee religious liberty — the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution. Successful societies privatize their economies, and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption, and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people.
Call me naive as well, but I think it’s worth taking a chance. Turmoil or not.