- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

There is a growing consensus on the liberal left which argues President Bush is endangering world peace by his resolve to spread democracy the world over. This is the same consensus that opposed President Reagan when he fought to bring democracy to El Salvador and Nicaragua. The attack on Mr. Bush is part of a new isolationism which thinks it of little moment that a liberated Iraq has embarked on a road to a constitutional democracy or that Saddam Hussein can no longer fill mass graves with innocent Iraqi men, women and children.

What concerns the liberal left and the Democratic presidential candidates is that President Bush has supposedly introduced something new and radically different in American foreign policy. But, in fact, the Bush Doctrine is a continuation of the Reagan Doctrine, which is now history. Let me quote the words President Reagan uttered 21 years ago:

“The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.”

This statement of American foreign policy, which later became known as the Westminster speech, was delivered on June 8, 1982, before the British Parliament. It was at such a time that the French prophet of doom, Jean-Francois Revel, wrote a book titled “How Democracies Perish.” “Democracy may, after all, turn out to have been an historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.”

Less than a decade later, it was the free market democracies that had triumphed and it was the Soviet Union which was the brief parenthesis that collapsed before our eyes. Margaret Thatcher put it right when she said about Mr. Reagan: “From the strong fortress of his convictions, he set out to enlarge freedom the world over when freedom was in retreat — and he succeeded.” It was in his Westminster speech that he made his prediction that “the march of freedom and democracy [will] leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history … .”

In his Westminster address, he laid out a strategy President Bush is following to the letter: for Mr. Reagan it was Afghanistan, Central America, Grenada and the bombing of Libya; for Mr. Bush, Afghanistan again and Iraq. For Mr. Reagan, the enemy was the “evil empire”; for Mr. Bush, the “axis of evil.” Said President Reagan:

“While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings.”

As was to be expected, the New York Times hated the Westminster speech it described as one of the “dark spots” of Mr. Reagan’s European tour. Writing from the lofty 10th floor of the Times Building on West 43rd Street, a mere 3,400 miles from Piccadilly Circus, it editorialized: “The stark, democracy vs. communism language of Mr. Reagan’s speech stunned many Britons.”

As Mr. Bush has his critics, so did Mr. Reagan. The Heritage Foundation’s president, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., has collected some of those assaults on the Reagan Doctrine, which include these gems:

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1981: “Those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse are … only kidding themselves.”

British historian E.P. Thompson wrote in the unredeemably left Nation magazine, that the U.S. was “more dangerous and provocative” than the Soviet Union.

Strobe Talbott, later a stalwart of the Clinton administration, said in Time Magazine: “Though some second-echelon hard-liners in the Reagan administration espouse the early ‘50s goal of rolling back Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, the U.S. simply does not have the military or political power to do that.”

And when it came to Afghanistan, Newsweek wrote in 1984: “The Mujaheedin can never be strong enough to drive the Soviet out of Afghanistan.” Richard Cohen of The Washington Post wrote: “We are covertly supplying arms to guerrillas who don’t stand the slightest chance of winning.”

From the Reagan Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine, we’re hearing the same old story 20 years later: Do nothing, also known as the Chirac-Schroeder Doctrine.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.


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