TCS Daily

Bush's 'Conservative' Vision

By Duane D. Freese - January 21, 2005 12:00 AM

Margaret Thatcher once said, "Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."

In his Inaugural Address on Thursday, George W. Bush essentially said that it was time for America to spread its philosophy of freedom to all corners of the globe.

For a man of deep faith and fervent conviction, that is hardly surprising. But the fact that Bush could couch that mission in terms that conservatives might grudgingly accept is a bit astonishing. Conservatism has always been less than ambitious in changing other peoples of the world. Yes, welcome the tired, the poor, the wretched of the Earth here, where they could use their freedom to build an ever greater nation; but spread it back to where they came?

Conservatives have had little interest in nation-changing. After all, when the liberal Woodrow Wilson went out to make the world safe for democracy, it was Republicans under Henry Cabot Lodge in the Senate who killed the League of Nations Wilson saw as vital to that task. Conservatives don't like the United Nations. They are hardly on speaking terms with the International Monetary Fund. They are deeply suspicious of the World Bank.

The United States as a beacon, fine; but spreading freedom will mean entangling new alliances. Why should conservatives consider that?

Well, technology.

Bush didn't say it directly. He used loftier language:

        "For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny -- prone 
        to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder -- violence will gather, and multiply 
        in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat."

Disgruntled people with a willingness to commit violence against their fellow humans have existed throughout history. What is different today is that the wherewithal is within reach to express that hatred in ways that are destructive beyond past imagining.

The terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon used conventional weapons. What if they had in their grasp the kind of chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry that modern technology can bring?

While protestors at Thursday's event raised placards saying, "Liar," when Bush passed because no weapons of mass destruction have been uncovered in Iraq, they have no answer to how to deal with the threat of such weapons other than stick their heads in the sand -- or pray.

Uncertainty about the intentions of nations with WMD capabilities that might be shared with terrorists will only become more threatening as time passes.

Technology of miniaturization and biochemistry is neutral. Bugs mechanical and biological can serve great purposes of combating disease, spreading information, increasing productivity, lessoning pollution -- or they can sneak explosives stealthily aboard planes and spread new plagues.

How do you control it? Well, there are two ways by which people are controlled -- by values or by fear.

The United States can't chase down every evil person everywhere. We captured Saddam Hussein, but have yet to be able to track down Osama bin Laden or his ally in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The more people and nations who share American values, the fewer places those with violent intents will have to hide.

        "We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty 
        in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope 
        for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. America's vital 
        interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

Another way to put it is this: The best defense is a good offence. And the best offensive weapon we have is not our military but our philosophy -- of freedom and human dignity.

Bush has set a strategy for our self-defense of spreading freedom. Conservatives can buy that. Maybe some old Wilsonian liberals, too. Of course, the tough question remains: By what tactics?


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