Obama's Tyranny Agenda
Those of us who served in the Bush Administration remember well the derision that met the former president’s “Freedom Agenda” in the elite salons of Washington. We were the Texas imperialists hungry for third-world spoils. We were a posse of Dr. Strangelove acolytes intent on destroying the world to save it. Even some of our friends portrayed us as serpents trying to convince the benighted peoples of the world that they need only eat from the tree of democracy and they would be as gods. As a result, we lost some short-term political battles. But in the end, we won the argument.
How else does one explain Iraq, circa 2009 – a country where a recent ABC News poll revealed that 64 percent of the people believe that democracy is the best form of government (a figure probably higher than in some states in the northeast)? Are these not the antiquarian tribalists who we were told would never rise above ancient divisions of clan, culture, and creed? Are these not the people who the current Vice President of the United States once said were so irreconcilably different that their nation needed to be carved into three different states? And does their growing peace and prosperity not give the lie to every critic who said that democracy was an American opiate rather than the realization of one of the noblest hopes of mankind?
Yet Iraq has receded from the American mind. In one of the most staggering vacuums in American intellectual history, this victory snatched from the jaws of defeat has been orphaned. This is no small slight to President Bush, a man too humble to spend the early days of his retirement touting the surge strategy for what it was – one of the boldest and most successful gambits in the history of presidential decision-making. But the consequences of this amnesia are far greater for the nation – and for the current president who shares it.
The Obama Administration has struttingly declared its fealty to realism, the only foreign policy school of thought so insecure that it seeks validation in its name. Over the past decade, realists have come to define themselves in opposition to “overly idealistic” neoconservatives, but that sells a proud tradition short. Historically, realists have provided a valuable service to the foreign policy community by relying on steely-eyed analysis and a focus on the national interest to cut to the quick of even the most vexing national security issues. But the diluted progeny of those realists past have polluted the legacy of their forebears. Steely-eyed analysis has given way to clammy-handed diplomacy. And the national interest has been supplanted by the least offensive consensus.
Thus, the Obama realists will have none of this dunderheaded democracy talk. Sophisticated nations, after all, thrive by starving the universal hunger for liberty and gorging the bloated enemies of freedom. At least, that’s the only intelligible way to understand President Obama’s foreign policy.
How else does one explain a presidential offer to barter away the missile defense of Eastern Europe’s young democracies in exchange for Russian efforts to slow Iran’s development of nuclear weapons? Were Obama’s offer tied to any tangible outcomes it could perhaps be justified on the coldest of realist grounds: between your security and ours, ours comes first. But a promise to talk, even if fulfilled, doesn’t disarm warheads. Like the equally insipid “land for peace” gestures in the Holy Land, all it does is guarantee that one side gives up a tangible asset today in exchange for a dubious promise tomorrow.
Hope and change are also not on tap for America’s friends in Colombia, a nation that has forever dispelled the notion that the war on drugs is unwinnable. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s commitment to rooting out the drug trade and the violence that accompanies it has produced staggering results. Since Uribe took office, homicides in Colombia have dropped by 40 percent, terrorist attacks have fallen by more than 70 percent, and kidnappings have declined by more than 80 percent. At a time when Mexico teeters on the verge of becoming a failed state because of the drug trade, Colombia provides a case study on how to come back from the precipice. Yet Obama – first as a senator and then as president – has been coolly indifferent to the U.S.–Colombia free trade deal that Uribe says is vital to maintaining his nation’s progress.
Finally, there is China, where the Obama Administration’s attitude towards persecuted dissidents has been flippant at best. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Beijing in February, she told her Chinese hosts that “Our pressing on [human rights] issues can't interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis." Translation: don’t think about standing in front of a tank anytime soon. While America’s economic dependence on China is undeniable given the profligate spending that we have indulged thanks to Beijing’s line of credit, voicing that reality out loud is destined to crush the spirit of the friends of liberty in the Far East. How many Tibetan monks will be able to take inspiration from the Declaration of Independence if they think it truthfully reads “all men are created equal ... but some hold hundreds of billions of dollars in American treasury bonds”?
The usually branding conscious Obama Administration has yet to give a label to their foreign policy. Given where its priorities seem to lie, let’s settle on the “Tyranny Agenda” for now.