- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

President Bush's national security adviser was fielding a question this month on how it was that the United States could shine as a beacon of democracy in a troubled world and still court unelected leaders in places like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China.
Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman to serve as national security adviser in the United States, didn't take long to answer.
"When the Founding Fathers said 'We the People,' they weren't talking about me," Miss Rice replied. "It's taken us a little while to get that piece of it right."
The search for moral clarity in a world fraught with strategic ambiguity has vexed American presidents since the nation's inception.
Seldom, though, has the quest seemed more elusive than now, as Mr. Bush struggles to maintain ties with some of the most unsavory regimes in the world while trying to wage a war against terrorism he has defined as a fight to preserve American values. Indeed, he has cast it as a clash between good and evil.
Like other presidents before him, Mr. Bush has sought to craft his foreign policy around a set of principles promoting democracy, respect for human rights and the building of free and open societies only to find many of his goals heavily dependent upon the cooperation of regimes or leaders whose behavior is antithetical to those ideals.
In his effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden and others linked to the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bush has become more reliant than ever on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who ousted an elected if inept leader two years ago and just last month cleared the way to defer long-promised democratic elections.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of an oil sheikdom with no constitution and no elections, has become central to Mr. Bush's hopes to quell Middle East violence that is threatening his anti-terrorism campaign and his aim to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who presides over yet another repressive and undemocratic regime, is pivotal to Mr. Bush's hopes for beginning a diplomatic dialogue in the weeks ahead with communist North Korea.
In such a world, said Miss Rice, "moral clarity" is not a policy imperative to be pursued at the expense of important American interests. Rather, she regards it as a "compass" for guiding the ship of state through stormy international waters.
But how far off course can the vessel stray before its own moral bearings are lost? At what point must U.S. policy-makers say no to dealings with unsavory characters, before they put at risk the very principles they purport to defend?
"That's really the ultimate conundrum," said Michael Desch, associate professor of international relations at the University of Kentucky. "That's what led some of the Founders to take the position that all international politics is basically evil and we should cultivate our own garden."
However appealing, genuine isolationism has seldom been an option for American presidents, who time and again have seen fit to align the country with unseemly foreign partners as the means to advance and defend U.S. interests.
No less a moral exemplar than President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously made his peace with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose iron-fisted rule is blamed for the deaths of millions of Russians, to defeat Nazi Germany during World War II.
Even the authors of the Declaration of Independence struck a strategic alliance with the decidedly nondemocratic French monarchy to secure military aid the American colonists needed to defeat the British monarchy.
"They were a pretty hardheaded bunch of realists," said Clay Clemens, professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. "They didn't bind themselves totally to this idea of only dealing with totally savory characters."
Now Mr. Bush finds himself swimming in similar historical tides, forging his own alliances with a grim assortment of dictators, autocrats and tyrants in his effort to defend the country against the terrorist threat.
"It is a complex world," Miss Rice said in her appearance at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "It's a hard world."
But there comes a point, some analysts say, when a U.S. embrace of leaders of any and all stripes has the potential to undermine the very objectives Mr. Bush is pursuing.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, are key U.S. partners in the anti-terror campaign and efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Both countries have harshly repressive governments that are generally friendly to the United States and have populations that blame U.S. policies for the lack of democracy and human rights. That may help explain why 15 of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks came from Saudi Arabia.
"These regimes, for the most part, are detested as corrupt and repressive, and since they are friends of the United States, the United States is [seen as] repressive for their being there," said Bernard Lewis, a renowned Middle East scholar at Princeton University.
Failing to differentiate between democratic regimes and harshly oppressive autocracies, he said, undercuts the principles Mr. Bush claims to be defending.
"If you persist in treating friends and enemies alike, you will arouse distaste for your friendship and contempt for your enmity," said Mr. Lewis. "That should be written in large letters at the State Department."
There is an even thornier dilemma for Mr. Bush, who presents a view of the world black and white, for us or against us, good versus evil that can be particularly hard to square in the context of peculiar bedfellows.
In some ways, he has painted himself into a rhetorical corner, said Leon Hadar, a foreign policy fellow with the Cato Institute.
"There is an inconsistency if you apply these kind of very rigid ideological terms to describe what the United States is doing," said Mr. Hadar.
Mr. Bush has said, for instance, that Iran, Iraq and North Korea form part of a global "axis of evil" that threatens to supply terrorist organizations with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Carefully not mentioned as an "axis" power was Pakistan, which unlike Iran, Iraq or North Korea is known to have built, and tested, nuclear weapons. It also has long maintained close ties to Islamic militants operating in Kashmir and was, until last fall, a major backer of Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
"In many respects, Pakistan is a prime example of an 'evil' country, by using the categories that Bush pronounced in his speech," said Mr. Hadar.
Many students of diplomacy believe the answer to such contradictions is to strip moral judgments out of foreign policy decisions altogether. Such realpolitik, taken to extremes, leaves only the unbridled pursuit of national interests as a guide to statecraft.
After all, advocates of this approach contend, a moral compass can sometimes spin to an incomprehensible swirl in the diplomatic horse latitudes of a problem such as the Arab-Israeli conflict. It pits U.S. obligations toward Israel a democratic, post-Holocaust ally against the decades-long quest for freedom and statehood by Palestinian underdogs who say they are being ravaged by a military oppressor.
"When you add the two of those together, it turns out to be a mess for the United States, because the moral arguments don't point you in the direction of a clear solution," said Mr. Desch. "The moral imperatives are cross-cutting. They're pushing in different directions."
In an imperfect world, Mr. Bush may have little choice but to continue doing what American presidents have always struggled to do articulate American goals that echo national ideals and be prepared to do what must be done to safeguard the country.
"That is about as plausible and reasonable a standard as I think a day-to-day policy-maker is going to be able to establish," said Mr. Clemens.
"You can attribute it all to hypocrisy and say we just don't always live up to our values," he said. "But international politics just doesn't always lend itself to that nice clean distinction of, 'These are the good guys, these are the bad guys.'"


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