NEAL CONAN: Over the past few days we’ve heard two important speeches on very different aspects of the war on terror. Last Thursday at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush framed his policies in Iraq as part of a global campaign for democracy and freedom. Then yesterday in a speech before a meeting co-sponsored by MoveOn.com and the American Constitution Society, former Vice President Al Gore declared that the Bush administration has undermined democracy in this country and he called for the repeal of the Patriot Act.
We’re going to listen to excerpts from both speeches this hour and talk about their significance, and we begin with President Bush. His speech last week tried to put his efforts to spread democracy, particularly in Iraq and the Middle East, on the same plane as President Ronald Reagan’s determination to roll back communism. At the time, as President Bush noted, President Reagan’s campaign was dismissed as simplistic, naive, even dangerous. In the Middle East, the president argued that the lack of democracy and freedom is not a failure of culture or religion but of misguided political and economic policies, and he criticized the West, including the United States.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.
Therefore the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before, and it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.
CONAN: Does this idealistic appeal change the arguments over Iraq? What is the administration doing to further the cause of freedom and democracy in the Middle East? And will this president be as persistent as his predecessors or will the pressures of continued violence and slipping polls and protests convince him to change course in Iraq?
We’re going to be talking about the politics a little bit later, but joining us now to talk about the policy is Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and co-author of “America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy.” He joins us from the studios at The Brookings Institution. Good to have you back on the program.
And Robert Kagan is also with us. He’s a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; the author most recently of “Of Paradise and Power: America Vs. Europe in the New World Order.” He’s with us from his home in Virginia.
Ivo, let me begin with you. And, well, to talk about President Bush’s policies, let me use the same words that he used about Ronald Reagan’s. Is his declaration of democracy in the Middle East, is this simplistic, naive, even dangerous?
IVO DAALDER: Well, we’ll have to see. I mean, the declaration in and of itself is unobjectionable; in fact, one can argue that democratization as a principle of American foreign policy has been with us since Woodrow Wilson. In fact, the president referred to the four freedoms. But this has been a standard part of what the United States has been trying to do for well over a century, which is to make the world a better place, not only for America, but for other people, and thereby make it a better place for the United States.
The real question, with regard to the Middle East, as the president himself said, for 60 years this is not what we have been engaged in. We have not been engaged in pushing democracy in the Middle East and the question now is: Are we going to change? Are we going to put democracy first and foremost in our policy with regard to Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Are we going to use the leverage that we have in order to change the direction of those countries? Are we going to make this point number one when it comes to fighting terrorism? Are we going to embrace the governments who may be targets of terrorism or are we going to push them to liberalize quicker and more fruitfully in order to undermine those terrorist attacks?
So those are all the questions that the speech raises. In and of itself, the words are unobjectionable; in fact, they’re welcome.
CONAN: Robert Kagan, your reaction to this speech?
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, I have much the same reaction, I hate to tell you, as Ivo has. I think that it’s important that President Bush made this statement because in a way he comes out of a somewhat different Republican tradition I think than Ronald Reagan. There are a lot of Republicans who think that it’s a mistake to have such grandiose goals for American foreign policy. But Bush is really embracing the more revolutionary America that I would suggest goes back even before Woodrow Wilson.
And the other really important thing I would say is that not even Ronald Reagan talked about democracy in the Middle East, and I don’t think any president has. That’s always been sort of the third rail. You don’t want to touch those Arab monarchies and dictatorships. So I think it’s quite significant that the president has actually named both Egypt and Saudi Arabia places where change needs to occur, and that’s significant.
But Ivo’s exactly right. It’s relatively easy to give speeches; it’s a lot harder to implement policies. And my concern is that in the one primary test case, which is Iraq, that while the president wants to head in this direction, it’s not at all clear to me that all of his Cabinet officials do, and particularly his secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld.
CONAN: Hm. So you would question—I seem to be hearing this from both of you—that while these are—whether the president is actually prepared to carry out the policies dictated by these very broad goals that he talked about in terms of democracy and freedom. Ivo?
DAALDER: Well, yeah. I mean, I don’t even know whether the president wants to go much further than the speech that he has given. I mean, my sense of the president is that he doesn’t necessarily think it is that hard to promote democracy even in a region like this. My view—if you read the speech also, he keeps on talking about liberty more than democracy. The notion somehow that if you can remove the obstacles to liberty, dictatorships in particular, then people will necessarily make free choices in a way that promote democracy, that make that kind of form of government more likely.
I question that. I don’t necessarily think that the only reason why people aren’t living in a democracy is because of dictatorships. They also want security. They also want to meet basic needs. So it is a much more complicated factor to promote democracy, as we saw, in fact, in Asia and Latin America, than the mere removal of dictators.
However, that said, removing dictators, creating the circumstances in which people rise up against dictators is clearly one of the key principles one needs to support. And the question now is for the president, what is he going to do to make that reality occur in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and, in fact, what is he going to do in Iraq, where I have serious doubts whether we’re, in fact, supporting this kind of policy any more than our rhetoric suggests.
CONAN: Well, Ivo Daalder just said that he was worried that he might not have the persistence of his predecessors. But, Robert Kagan, if he puts this on the same scale as the long battle against communism in Europe and Asia, clearly he’s not thinking of turning it around in the next month.
KAGAN: Well, I think it’s—I mean, I don’t know, Ivo thinks he can climb inside the president’s head. I think the safest assumption is the president is seriously committed to this course. And, you know, even—rhetoric has a way of driving reality, as Ivo knows. I mean, when you stake out these broad claims, you do find yourself under some pressure to live up to them. And I think the president has every intention of trying to push in this direction, and I think, of course, it is a long-term prospect. I mean, nobody thinks we’re going to have democracy in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, but I think this is an important first step in that direction.
I also think that, you know, were the United States to do well in Iraq and create a system that actually had elections within the next year or 18 months, I think that would have a very significant impact. There are elections coming up in Egypt. The pressure on the president of Egypt, Mubarak, to hold freer elections might be greater. There’d be pressure on the government in Saudi Arabia. So I think if Iraq is done well, it really could have kind of a domino effect in the region, you know, not overnight but in time.