January 26, 2005


Bush Pere Feared Democracy, Bush Fils Embraces It (Judith Apter Klinghoffer, 1/24/05, HNN)

Something surprising happened on Saturday. The father who for four years meticulously avoided interfering with his son’s handling the job he once had, entered the White House briefing room to signal reporters not to take his son’s inaugural rhetoric about enabling the spread of democracy seriously. Being a savvy diplomat, Bush, the father, merely noted that W’s words did not mean "new aggression or newly assertive military forces . . . instant change in every country . . .or any arrogance on part of the United States.” In other words, the words were not “meant to signal a new direction in U.S. foreign policy.” Well, the Iranian Mullahs do consider help and encouragement to democratic forces aggression and consistent support to such forces in Syria, Iran or North Korea would, indeed, represent a shift in American foreign policy. Arguing that it does not dooms the policy, which is based not on liberating armies but on helping people living in tyrannies liberate themselves. He knows that Rami G. Khouri of the Lebanese Daily Star was far from alone in observing that “most Middle Easterners feel the United States' rhetorical commitment to freedom and democracy is sharply contradicted by enduring U.S. support for autocrats and dictators, 15 years after the end of the cold war.”

W. knows his father’s post Gulf War policy is one of the most important reasons Middle Easterners doubt his words. Indeed, that is the reason he said: "Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world” [emphasis added] before he went on to promise: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Don’t worry, he went on to explain, that the new foreign policy is based merely on idealism. It is based on my assessment of what has to be done to keep America safe and, you know by now, that I will do whatever needs to be done to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens. It was that argument that W. repeated as he tried to repair the damage his father may have caused. "As I stated in my inaugural address, our security at home increasingly depends on the success of liberty abroad," the president said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "So we will continue to promote freedom, hope and democracy in the broader Middle East -- and by doing so, defeat the despair, hopelessness and resentments that feed terror."

“Read Sharansky,” the president suggested to those who wished to get a better insight to his thinking. I did and there, on page 67, in a description of an oval office conversation Sharansky had with Bush Pere, I found the key to the unprecedented semi-public row between father and son:

The president told me he intended to support Gorbachev’s efforts to keep the Soviet Union together and wanted my opinion on how best to help him. When I asked him why America wanted to prevent the breakup of the USSR, he explained that Gorbachev was a man with whom the United States “could do business.” Bush argued that it was better to have the Soviet nuclear arsenal in the hands of a leader America could rely on than under the control of unproven heads of state, even ones who were democratically elected. President Bush also make it clear that he believed dealing with an unelected Soviet leader who could be counted on to help preserve stability around the globe was better than taking a chance on a Pandora’s box of international chaos opening up in the wake of USSR’s collapse.

I respectfully told the president that in my view nothing could or should be done to convince Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians to reject the independence they had craved for so long and which is finally within their reach. Rather than attempt to thwart the democratic will of these people, I suggested that America focus its efforts on helping all parties manage the difficult transition to democracy. By facilitating this process, I argued, America would earn the lasting appreciation of those peoples and also be in a better position to address its own concerns about what might happen in a post-Soviet order.

But President Bush chose a different course. In August 1991, he traveled to the Ukraine where he delivered his notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech, in which he urged Ukrainians not to support “suicidal nationalism.” . . . . In the end, it made little difference to the Ukrainians what President Bush thought. A few months after his visit, the overwhelming majority of them voted to have a country of their own.

The Ukrainians acted and a reluctant George H. Bush ultimately was forced to go along. His fears turned out to be exaggerated, though I suspect many a diplomat working in Foggy Bottom misses the "good old days" of the Soviet Union. They, along with the media, lead the disingenuous chorus that tried to undermine the seriousness of Bush’s inauguration speech by equating Russia with China.

Actually W., unlike his father, did not try to sell out the Ukrainians for the sake of Putin. On the contrary, he stood steadfastly by the democratic forces in Ukraine as he did in Georgia.

Have the Realists ever been right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2005 7:24 AM
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