Over 200 years ago, a rebellious band of colonists surveyed their situation in the new world and decided there was a goal for which they would be willing to fight and die in order to achieve: freedom. Their fight was not easy, yet with will, determination, and what would later become known as the American spirit, these visionaries put in place a society that would become the beacon of hope for people around the world. They also proved a point that is vitally important in America's present quest to promote democracy around the world: democracy must be wanted and cannot be imposed.
In remarks at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy last week, President Bush outlined a "Forward Strategy of Freedom" to promote democracy in the Middle East. During his speech, Bush said that as the twentieth century ended, "there were around 120 democracies in the world."
"I can assure you more are on the way," Bush said.
In eloquent comments, President Bush noted that the sacrifices of Americans have not always been "recognized or appreciated," but he said that the sacrifices have been "worthwhile."
"Because we and our allies were steadfast, Germany and Japan are democratic nations that no longer threaten the world," Bush said. "A global nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union ended peacefully -- as did the Soviet Union. The nations of Europe are moving towards unity, not dividing into armed camps and descending into genocide. Every nation has learned, or should have learned, an important lesson: Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for, and standing for -- and the advance of freedom leads to peace."
No truer words can be spoken about democracy and its advance throughout the world. The advance of freedom does lead to peace -- there is no doubt. The question which needs to be asked is how should freedom be advanced. What is America's proper role in spreading democracy to developing nations as well as nations rooted in other forms of government?
In his remarks, President Bush addresses several nations as examples of oppressive regimes where democracy will one day flourish.
"Our commitment to democracy is tested in countries like Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Zimbabwe -- outposts of oppression in our world," Bush said. "The people in these nations live in captivity, and fear and silence. Yet, these regimes cannot hold back freedom forever -- and, one day, from prison camps and prison cells, and from exile, the leaders of new democracies will arrive. Communism, and militarism and rule by the capricious and corrupt are the relics of a passing era. And we will stand with these oppressed peoples until the day of their freedom finally arrives."
The president then moved to the Middle East, saying, "Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free."
In making a comparison on whether the nations of the Middle East are capable of embracing democracy, President Bush cited nations such as Japan and Germany, nations which were thought to be incapable of supporting a democratic form of government. However, the comparison does not fully describe the situation in the Middle East. In the case of Japan and Germany, those governments represented conquered regimes. The United States and the Allies had the luxury of reshaping these countries in the post-war environment in a model of their choosing. The countries of the Middle East are not conquered nations, and thus democracy cannot be imposed on them as it was on Japan and Germany.
The proper way to promote democracy to nondemocratic nations is to lead by example. Through economic and diplomatic efforts, America can show regimes that democracy not only leads to freedom, but it can also lead to prosperity. America must resist the urge to mandate that nondemocratic nations "must" reform. Instead, America should show other nations that it is in their best interest to develop democracy. If they resist, then we must step back.
If the nations of the Middle East choose to welcome democracy into their borders, then there is no doubt that America will be the reason why. But we must be smart in our approach. We cannot reshape the Middle East through force, but through example. Thus our rhetoric must be geared to showing the benefits of democracy and not the liabilities of a nation's current regime.
In his comments, President Bush said, "In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling. Whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines."
What needs to be remembered in describing the Middle East is that in these regimes, culture and religion play a dominant role in forming political and economic doctrines. America should be mindful of this fact as we deal with the Middle East. Yes, we should do our part to promote democracy. But, we should not be involved in imposing our democratic values on nations that may resent the intervention. Unless we plan on conquering all the nations of the Middle East, then for the present time, we must tread lightly in our rhetoric of democracy.
Democracy is a noble concept, and our focus should always be on its "promotion" and not its "imposition." In our mission to bring freedom to the oppressed, we must also balance where we can do the most good with the urge to overreach. Democracy is the path to freedom, and it's a path that must be walked on willingly and not with a gun in the back.