Column: Bush’s conservative speech

I originally planned to defend President Bush’s second inaugural address from the usual and increasingly bitter Democratic attacks. But with four more years of the Bush White House, there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now, I must answer the few – but pressing – conservative criticisms of Bush’s truly momentous speech.

In a National Review article assessing the inaugural address, conservative commentator Peter Robinson disturbingly lamented that “the speech was in almost no way that of a conservative … It amounted to a thoroughgoing exaltation of the state.” I couldn’t believe my eyes, but unfortunately, some of my conservative colleagues share Robinson’s critique. Needless to say, I believe Robinson and like-minded conservatives fail to comprehend the Bush Doctrine. They continue to underestimate the power of freedom to defeat terrorism and positively change the world.

It’s time to set the record straight: The Bush Doctrine is quite consistent with the realist foreign policy philosophy that is commonly espoused by conservative politicians and intellectuals. It also wholly reflects President Ronald Reagan’s “Rollback” Doctrine that stopped the communist expansion into the third world.

Accordingly, conservatives believe that American foreign policy should serve to protect and preserve national interests. National security should always be the state’s top priority. Idealists, by contrast, are ultimately concerned with spreading democracy. In fact, they often support foreign interventions that are contrary to national security.

Conservatives need not worry. President Bush, like President Reagan before him, is a genuine realist. His approach, however, is remarkable in that it incorporates the idealist aspiration of promoting democracy with the realist goal of ensuring national security. Though many conservatives have misinterpreted Bush’s global ambitions as a rekindling of failed Wilsonian idealism, his devotion to the expansion of freedom in the Middle East is not rooted in abstract, humanitarian goals that are separate from American interests. On the contrary, he is instigating the democratic transformation of the Middle East, because it is the sole way to defeat the evil ideology that breeds and sustains Islamist terrorism. By trying to install free societies in the tyranny-infested Arab world, President Bush is really enhancing national security – protecting the American people from the horrid prospect of another September 11.

Conservatives should recall President Reagan’s 1985 State of the Union Address: “We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives … to defy Soviet aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth. Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.” Undoubtedly, Reagan’s foreign policy profoundly reflects the “freedom” theme from the president’s second inaugural address. Perhaps Mike Gerson, Bush’s chief speechwriter, drew from Reagan in crafting these bold words for Bush: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression … When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

Reagan countered Soviet expansion into the third world by supporting “freedom-fighters” and anti-communist insurgencies around the globe. Similarly, President Bush will defeat terrorism by supporting freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Free societies will prevent future generations of Arab men from falling victim to the murderous, terrorist ideology that threatens America today. Democracies are almost always peaceful and are unlikely to produce wars or terrorism. Indeed, Bush has every reason to believe in freedom. Throughout the 20th century, freedom repeatedly – and in the face of seemingly insurmountable cultural, religious and racial barriers – transformed foes into friends. From Japan to Germany to Russia and now to Afghanistan, it is clear that humanity possesses a universal capacity for freedom.

Iraqi citizens will make history next week as they defy their terrorist enemies and, for the first time, participate in free elections. By bravely exercising their democratic right to vote, they are striking a harsh blow at the very heart of international terrorism. By going to the polls, they are making America and the world more secure. It’s time for all Americans – liberals and conservatives alike – to finally stand behind this president in bringing freedom to the Middle East. Our security depends on it; it is the calling of our time.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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