Monday, December 1, 2003

President Bush’s Thanksgiving Day visit to the troops in Baghdad was but the latest — and to date most courageous — personal testament to his commitment to the spread of democracy and liberty around the globe. His words to the Iraqi people were powerfully underscored by his presence: “You have an opportunity to seize the moment and rebuild your great country, based on human dignity and freedom.”

This trip and his remarks marked a sort of rhetorical trifecta. On two previous occasions last month, Mr. Bush spoke as in Iraq of his determination to promote freedom. On Nov. 6, he told an audience at the National Endowment for Democracy:

“The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. … America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom — the freedom we prize — is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.”

Then in London on Nov. 19, the president declared to our British allies: “Freedom, by definition, must be chosen, and defended by those who choose it. Our part, as free nations, is to ally ourselves with reform, wherever it occurs.”

Mr. Bush’s willingness not only to talk about freedom but actually to fulfill his commitment to defend it beyond Iraq is increasingly being put to the test.

The most immediately volatile example may be the threat posed to the people of democratic Taiwan by Communist China should the former have the temerity to hold a referendum concerning their nation’s status. Beijing’s fear is that the referendum could well establish that the Taiwanese want to assert their right to freedom — freedom from the fiction that their country is just a province of mainland China; freedom from further Chinese threats of forced unification; and freedom for Taiwan to be recognized by the world for what it surely is: a sovereign state.

For some in Mr. Bush’s administration, the people of Taiwan’s desire for liberty is inconvenient, to say the least. Ever since 1972, when the United States abandoned the conceit there was only one China — and it was Taiwan — in favor of the conceit that there is only one China and it is the mainland, the policy of successive American presidents has been to accommodate Beijing’s insistence that Taiwan remain: unable to defend itself; unrepresented in practically all international bodies; and more or less the equivalent of a global diplomatic pariah. Our commitment to defend the fragile democracy on Taiwan was ambiguous at best.

The position George W. Bush adopted shortly after coming to office sought to eliminate that ambiguity by aligning the United States with the free people of Taiwan. In April 2001, he said when asked what we would do if Taiwan were attacked by China that we have an obligation to defend Taiwan and would do “whatever it took” to help do so.

To be sure, in the following days and months, the “one China” policy was reaffirmed and the president made clear his hope any differences between the two parties would be resolved peacefully. Now, however, he is reportedly being encouraged by, among others, NSC staff member James Moriarty to shift from not supporting Taiwan’s independence to actually “opposing” it. Such a shift would not only signal the evisceration of Mr. Bush’s commitment to defend Taiwan; it would seemingly support Beijing in any step it felt necessary to prevent an action both the PRC and United States opposed.

Such a stance would make a mockery of the centerpiece of Mr. Bush’s remarks to his British audience at Whitehall Palace less than two weeks ago: “We must shake off decades of failed policy. … In the past, [we] have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.

“As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.”

As with Taiwan, President Bush is being pressed to render such brave words into hollow phrases with respect to the tyrannies of Iran, North Korea and Syria. If only we “tolerate their oppression” — and, for that matter, their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and support for terror — we will do nothing more than maintain the fiction of “stability.”

At the same time, some of Mr. Bush’s subordinates are also actively encouraging an effort by a discredited, unaccountable Israeli ex-politician by the name of Yossi Beilin which will have the effect of subverting a friendly democracy and emboldening its despotic enemies. This is, as Charles Krauthammer observed in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, “scandalous” and a “disgrace.”

Endorsing appeasement like Mr. Beilin’s, however, will be something more — a strategic disaster — if it and other departures from the Bush commitment to defend freedom contribute to the undoing of an American president and his principled agenda for a safer world.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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