Whatever else one takes from President Bush’s trip to Europe, it is obvious who’s on the offense and who’s playing defense. Twenty years after Ronald Reagan proclaimed freedom inevitable for what were then called “captive nations,” freedom is on the march as perhaps never before.
Europeans will have to rethink their policy of vacillation, accommodation and surrender to evil. In the ‘80s, millions of Europeans demonstrated against Reagan’s policy of victory over Soviet communism and its offspring in Central America.
But the paradigm has shifted. Now it is totalitarianism — from the Middle East, to North Korea, to a resurgent virus in Vladimir Putin’s Russia — that must justify depriving people of their freedom and keeping their governments undemocratic.
The definition of freedom underscores what is at stake: “The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice of action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; the quality or state of being exempt or released, usually from something onerous.”
How could anyone be against that? Many are against freedom because they wish to maintain the unique position enjoyed by religious and political dictators who seize rights and power for themselves, while denying them to others.
In a speech in Bratislava, Slovakia, last Thursday, President Bush spoke to the “citizens of a free Slovakia” and noted that nearly 17 years ago “thousands of Slovaks gathered peacefully in front of this theater. They came, not to welcome a visiting president, but to light candles, sing hymns, pray for an end to tyranny and the restoration of religious liberty.”
The president said communist authorities “watched thousands of candles shining in the darkness — and gave the order to extinguish them.” While noting the authorities crushed the 1988 protest, the president said: “The people of Bratislava lit a fire for freedom that day, a fire that quickly spread across the land. And within 20 months, the regime that drove Slovaks from this square would itself be driven from power. By claiming your own freedom, you inspired a revolution that liberated your nation and helped to transform a Continent.”
This is the Bush Doctrine: Freedom is something to be embraced by all people, regardless of faith, history or ethnicity. It is a universal value. The tide of history has turned. Where within memory the oppressors were on the march and free people had to explain why they wouldn’t move; now freedom is marching and dictators are being told to get out of the way.
Even Germany’s left-leaning magazine Der Spiegel revealed a crack in Europe’s failed leftist ideology when it wrote in its Feb. 23 issue: “Germany loves to criticize George W. Bush’s Middle East policies ” just like Germany loved to criticize former President Ronald Reagan. But Reagan, when he demanded that Gorbachev remove the Berlin Wall, turned out to be right. Could history repeat itself?”
This is heresy in much of the European Union, but the magazine has stated an undeniable truth: Reagan was right, and because he stuck to his guns (literally and figuratively) Eastern Europe is free. Despite some setbacks in Russia, things are better than under communism, though not as good as in Ukraine. Not yet.
President Bush has nothing for which to apologize when he champions freedom. Dictators and those European leaders who have been on the wrong side of history more than once should at least entertain the possibility Mr. Bush may be right and this time align themselves on the side of freedom and liberation for people who do not enjoy it.
There is no benefit to coddling, ignoring or buying off dictators. Protection money only protects until the dictators are sufficiently strong to come after those paying the bribes. Then who will protect them?
As the liberal playwright Lillian Hellman wrote in “Watch on the Rhine” (1941): “For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt.” Isn’t President Bush saying the same thing?
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.