I’m fed up with the President’s messiah complex, and I don’t bloody well want to hear any more about Bush’s "theological perspective" that freedom is the Almighty’s gift to all mankind, and so history’s on our side in the Middle East, and yada yada yada.
That’s a lot of weight to put on a couple of lines from Brooks’s account of a conversation, which amounted to this:
[The President’s] self-confidence survives because it flows from two sources. The first is his unconquerable faith in the rightness of his Big Idea. Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
Ramesh Ponnuru rightly characterizes--doesn’t compel us to any particular foreign policy. The President said as much in an important, but much maligned speech he gave a few years ago. Here’s how I characterized it at the time:
For Bush, this line of argument is not altogether new. He has long asserted that freedom is "God’s gift to humanity." What is different, I think, is his assertion of the scope of America’s ideals and interests and his acknowledgement of great flexibility in their promotion. Stated another way, this is a most statesmanlike affirmation of principle and prudence.
And there is also a very carefully nuanced "theology of history," affirming "a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of liberty," but also acknowledging that "it is human choices that move events" and that "[h]istory has an ebb and flow of justice." The responsibility rests on us, not as God’s chosen nation, but as creatures of the Almighty, to make good use of the freedom God has given us and everyone else. "From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of freedom? And did our character bring credit to that cause?" We must be concerned not only with the external effects of our actions, but with the character that produced them.
We will, the President says, "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture," but not "primarily" by force of arms. "Our goal… is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way." In so doing, our "influence is not unlimited," but it "is considerable." We can call attention across the world to the difference between "oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." And we’ll make it clear that "success in our relations" requires the decent treatment of one’s citizens, not as a grudging diplomatic concession on the eve of a presidential visit, nor as a matter of governmental grace or largesse, but as the fruit of a policy whose purpose is to encourage the flourishing of an independent civil society whose institutions undergird political freedom. In other words, America will stand with the oppressed, call attention to indigenous democratic reformers, admonish "the rulers of outlaw regimes" that their injustice cannot stand, and encourage and support those of our authoritarian friends who are moving, however gingerly, down the paths of democratization and liberalization.
Freedom will be the lodestar of our policy, but not in a ham-handed and merely preachy Carteresque way. There will be a lot of talk, but not just talk. There will be a lot of action, but not just military action. Embassies across the world will be busy maintaining lines of communication with the local democratizers and other representatives of "civil society."
What Sullivan calls a "Fuhrerprinzip" [sic]--thereby implicitly endorsing Keith Ellison’s honest or dishonest pandering to the MoveOn.org crowd--is connected with GWB’s view of God-given freedom: with it, comes God-given responsibility. Individuals are called to make a difference, to promote liberty, but how they do so depends, as I noted in my earlier post, on their practical and prudential judgment of the facts on the ground. Sullivan, Dreher, and Douthat to the contrary notwithstanding, this isn’t messianism, it’s the foundation of political responsibility.
We can, of course, reasonably disagree with the President’s judgment of the particular facts, not to mention with the choices he and his subordinates have made, but his principles are as American as apple pie.
I’m tempted now to write a few words about Lincoln and the extremely costly Civil War, speculating about how Sullivan et al. would have written about that, but I’ll resist.