The lock and key
Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit responds to the message in President Bush's State of the Union Address with his heart, but can he respond, with equal enthusiasm with his intellect? Bush struck a chord near and dear to Mayer and to anyone who has been as involved with the Third World. Bush reaffirmed, rhetorically at least, his commitment to freedom. And freedom, which Americans notice no more than they do the air, is not taken for granted in most parts of the world.
Tonight, President Bush wears a passive light blue tie. The fact is that among many foreign policy gurus, realpolitik is back on the dinner table because democracy has failed in the Middle East. Third Worldists contend that the Islamic and Arab world in particular simply is not ready for democracy. There are now more skeptics than believers, and even the administration itself has not been so noisy about the subject in the past year. The fact that President Bush tells us tonight that he still believes, however, is heartening. ... President Bush has ideologically always been right on target. Advancing and preserving democracy is and always will be in the best interests of the people of the world as well as of the United States.
"... always will be in the best interests of the people of the world as well as of the United States." Find words, but there is the little matter of implementation. To set against Mayer's intuitive attraction to freedom, there is this warning speech from James Webb as quoted at the Belgravia Dispatch. He argues that good intentions are worthless without competence; a Children's Crusade; the betrayal of ideals.
On the political issues those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way. We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.
By Webb's standard not just President Bush, but a several generations of American leaders stands condemned. Not just Johnson or Carter. Nor even the first Bush, who planted the seeds for a long-drawn out confrontation in the Middle East whose bitter crop is now fully springing to life; but the whole sorry era of the 1990s as America sleepwalked into a war against it of which it was not even aware. Of all the places where Webb's words ought be inscribed without the slightest irony, there is none better than the base of what was once the World Trade Center.
Yet the fault does not lie -- at least fundamentally -- with individual politicians. The world is in the middle of an epochal transition, a transition with various names. It has been known as a Clash of Civilizations; a shift from the Nation State to the Market State; the showdown between McWorld and the New Caliphate or the end times in advance of the Hidden Imam. But whatever the nomenclature, this epoch constitutes a challenge for which no Western leader as yet has clear answers. Not to the question of what to do with Europe's burgeoning Muslim communities; nor to the deadly rivalry between Sunni and Shi'a across the Middle East; nor to the challenge of radical Islam the world over. Webb is right to expect "sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare" and guarantees of safety from President Bush. But what better satisfaction can he obtain from Pelosi, Obama, Murtha or Hillary Clinton, who may not only not know the answer, they may not even understand the question. Is there no balm in Gilead? None. But that doesn't mean we can't start to invent some. Both Iraq and 9/11 are examples of challenges posed by the new epoch that won't go away. And they will not go away until freedom, at least as expressed as the absence the mental tyranny embodied by the toxic ideology embodied by radical theocracies, is widespread over the earth. Robert Mayer is right. And so is James Webb. Strategy and operational competence are meaningless without each other. A thumbs up for freedom. And two thumbs up for attaining freedom through learned competence.