I’ve been neglecting blogging about the President’s pivotal Three Pillars speech at Whitehall Palace, London. The speech was bascially pushed off the news by the Michael Jackson fiasco, but it marks a significant shift in American foreign policy. In many ways Bush’s "three pillars" could well become as crucial to history as the fourteen points or the four freedoms speechs of Wilson and Roosevelt respectively.
The first of Bush’s three pillars is having effective international institutions. The United Nations is not a prima facie good – it can do good only when it is willing to act to do so. As the President put it:
Like 11 Presidents before me, I believe in the international institutions and alliances that America helped to form and helps to lead. The United States and Great Britain have labored hard to help make the United Nations what it is supposed to be — an effective instrument of our collective security. In recent months, we’ve sought and gained three additional resolutions on Iraq — Resolutions 1441, 1483 and 1511 — precisely because the global danger of terror demands a global response. The United Nations has no more compelling advocate than your Prime Minister, who at every turn has championed its ideals and appealed to its authority. He understands, as well, that the credibility of the U.N. depends on a willingness to keep its word and to act when action is required.
America and Great Britain have done, and will do, all in their power to prevent the United Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance and inviting the fate of the League of Nations. It’s not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions; we must meet those dangers with resolve.
This is the issue at stake here. Those who paint Bush as nothing more than a reckless unilateralist are missing the point: Bush went to the United Nations several times, making every effort to get them on board. Each time he was rebuffed, often crudely, by the UN. When Dominique de Villepin rebuffed the US resolution on Iraq before even Iraq did, it showed that getting the UN on board would be impossible. Bush did not face the ternary choice of going in with UN support, doing without and going in, or not going in at all. His choices consisted of not getting UN support and not going, or going without. Given the horrible discoveries of mass graves and Saddam’s proven support for terrorism across the globe, it would be morally and strategically repugnant to avoid dealing with such a problem until it lead to its inevitable and disastrous end – either a major terrorist attack or the country of Iraq settling into the kind of hell on Earth that North Korea has become. None of the options other than the removal of Saddam Hussein could remotely be considered tenable over the long term in a post-September 11 age.
The UN was faced with a choice – either stand for the liberation of the Iraqi people or bow to tyranny. They failed to choose wisely, and the reprecussions of that choice may well cause the UN to become another failed attempt like the League of Nations.
Bush’s second pillar is the importance of free nations to be willing to use military force in defense of freedom.
It’s been said that those who live near a police station find it hard to believe in the triumph of violence, in the same way free peoples might be tempted to take for granted the orderly societies we have come to know. Europe’s peaceful unity is one of the great achievements of the last half-century. And because European countries now resolve differences through negotiation and consensus, there’s sometimes an assumption that the entire world functions in the same way. But let us never forget how Europe’s unity was achieved — by allied armies of liberation and NATO armies of defense. And let us never forget, beyond Europe’s borders, in a world where oppression and violence are very real, liberation is still a moral goal, and freedom and security still need defenders.
Bush managed to sum up the fundamental flaw of the European worldview in one short paragraph. As Melvyn Krauss observed twenty years ago, Europe has been living under the benevolent protection of the United States since the end of World War II. In that time Europe had never had to face real oppression since. The generation that knew the horrors of war are slowly dying out, and those in control in Europe have never had to make the difficult decisions of war and peace that a global superpower must make. They’ve been living under the patently false concept that dictators and tyrants can be negotiated with and bought off. This is a concept which can no longer be supported. As President Bush said years ago, and as Indonesia and now Turkey are finding, the concept of neutrality no longer applies to a global war on terrorism.
Bush’s final pillar is democratization.
The third pillar of security is our commitment to the global expansion of democracy, and the hope and progress it brings, as the alternative to instability and to hatred and terror. We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security. Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance.
In democratic and successful societies, men and women do not swear allegiance to malcontents and murderers; they turn their hearts and labor to building better lives. And democratic governments do not shelter terrorist camps or attack their peaceful neighbors; they honor the aspirations and dignity of their own people. In our conflict with terror and tyranny, we have an unmatched advantage, a power that cannot be resisted, and that is the appeal of freedom to all mankind.
There are those who argue that democracy is not a universal idea, which is again, and argument that is contradicted by years of history. America has receieved millions of immigrants from every part of the world who have become valued members of the American democracy. Irish, Germans, Afghanis, Iraqis, Jordanians, Liberians, Sudanese, Mexicans, Chinese, people from every part of the globe have found a new life in this country. Democracy is based upon innate values of the human condition. The argument that there are those who cannot tolerate freedom and democracy is an argument tinged with a subtle form of racism. Either democracy is universal to the human spirit or it is something only for the few. The latter argument is one that is both wrong based on history and morally reprehensible to boot.
These three pillars deserve far more analysis than they have gotten. The foreign policy of the United States has been given a significant reboot and a new mission in the post-September 11 age. It is an audacious and important new direction for the United States. No longer can we simply sit around and ignore the repression and lack of freedoms in the Arab world and elsewhere. The status quo is no longer tolerable for them and for us. As the President put it:
As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.
It is about time. I have a feeling that posterity will find this speech and that line in particular as far more important than the distracted and fickle press and Bush’s mindless and reactionary critics have made it out to be.