- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

In the 18th century, a sudden innovation in human political conduct appeared. It did not occur in France, where a celebrated revolution (with its slogan of “liberty, fraternity and equality”) soon fizzled, nor did it happen in Russia, where a later revolution (with its cry for universal distribution of wealth) quickly degenerated. It happened in the remote colonies of a British kingdom, where a politically prescient band of insurgents decided to have a try at democratic self-governing with a republican Constitution.

It is still spoken of as the “American experiment,” but after almost two-and-a-half centuries it is today a vital, maturing and amazingly resilient organization of almost 300 million people.

It is true that the initial constitution of that first true democratic republic, while profoundly idealistic in its statement and intent, served a nation that was, by today’s standards, not so democratic and not so republican. But unlike French, Russian and later revolutions in the world, the United States of America got better and better. It discarded slavery, child labor, limited suffrage and monopoly. As it grew, it embraced more liberty, more tolerance and more idealism. After 100 years, it began to be a world power — a power and influence that grew until it became the sole “superpower” on earth.

At the beginning of that power, in the Spanish-American War, it acted pre-emptorally and selfishly, as had virtually all of its non-democratic predecessors until then. But unlike these imperial superpowers, and the ideological totalitarian states that succeeded them, the American experiment soon began to foster international decolonialization, well-being and cooperation.

The failed idealism of Woodrow Wilson following the tragic World War I and its aftermath was replaced with economic aid throughout the world following World War II, promotion of world free markets and the resistance to a new threat to freedom, international Communism. When the dust settled after the collapse of Communism, the United States was by far the greatest economic, military and cultural force on earth.

But it was far from being the largest nation on earth. India and China each have more than three times the population of the United States. Each, after countless years of national suffering, little education, economic exploitation and political incoherence have almost suddenly begun to mature — India as a fully realized democracy, China as a Communist state racing toward capitalism and inevitable freedom.

Billions of people in the so-called Third World, however, live in poverty, illiteracy and political subjugation. It is as if 5,000 years of recorded civilization have passed them by. The French and Russian revolutions, now a few pages in history’s book, offer them nothing but anecdotes of violence and tyrants.

In the first year of his presidency, a relatively inexperienced politician named George W. Bush, who had won one of the most contentious elections in the nation’s history, was thrown into the center of the violent confluence of this changing movement of the earth’s political crust.

I do not know if George W. Bush is going to be a two-term president. Going into the Labor Day opening of the final stage of the 2004 campaign, the contest is too close to call. It remains “his race to lose.” Few can recall a campaign that has had more personal intensity for voters.

But it is useful, in my opinion, to point out that George W. Bush has contributed, regardless of the 2004 outcome, a new and very large American idea into world politics. This “Freedom Doctrine” is not rhetorical. The Bush administration has placed American military and economic might behind the revolutionary notion that democracy in some form is the right not just of Americans and Europeans, but of the peoples of the entire world. Behind the idealism of the Freedom Doctrine is the pragmatic motivation of security for all nations in a nuclear age in which the “revolt of the masses” and technology enables terrorism and barbarism on an international scale.

The Freedom Doctrine, and its inevitable economic companions of capitalism and international trade may have been imagined previously, but no president has had the daring and the opportunity to set it into motion. The naysayers — who argue that the Middle Eastern countries and their populations do not want, nor can they maintain, their own forms of democracy — are simply on the wrong side of history. September 11 has been the catalyst, but the need for a Freedom Doctrine has been evident for decades as the post-World War II world settled into patterns of a minority of industrial nations and a majority of other nations, most of the latter being chronically underdeveloped and totalitarian. This circumstance could not be maintained.

Mr. Bush’s enormous contribution is a resolution of this stalemate. It may not be recognized in time to get him re-elected, but it already has been submitted for publication in the book of history. And unlike the terms of less popular presidents, it has marked the stewardship of George W. Bush as one to be reckoned with as time passes.

Barry Casselman has reported on and analyzed national politics since 1972.


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