It’s old news that Barack Obama has held onto or reinstituted vast swaths of George W. Bush’s national security policy. From staying the course in Iraq to re-starting military tribunals, so many controversial Bush-era decisions have proved to be simply the best way forward in a legally and militarily treacherous gauntlet. Many observers had predicted that Obama would come to heed reality and adopt Bush policy. But the president’s sudden embrace of Bush’s foreign policy ideology is something no one could have foreseen.
As Pete pointed out, Obama recently told a BBC reporter that the U.S. shouldn’t impose its values on other nations, but that “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.”
Freedom and democracy as universal, not exclusively American, principles — where have I heard that before? From the 43rd president of the United States:
Some say that ending tyranny means “imposing our values” on people who do not share them, or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom. We saw that when the people of Latin America turned dictatorships into democracies, and the people of South Africa replaced apartheid with a free society, and the people of Indonesia ended their long authoritarian rule. We saw it when Ukrainians in orange scarves demanded that their ballots be counted. We saw it when millions of Afghans and Iraqis defied the terrorists to elect free governments. At a polling station in Baghdad, I was struck by the words of an Iraqi–he had one leg–and he told a reporter, “I would have crawled here if I had to.” Was democracy–I ask the critics–was democracy imposed on that man? Was freedom a value he did not share? The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the extremists and the radicals and the tyrants. . . . Freedom is the dream and the right of every person in every nation in every age.
Not only do Obama’s words recall Bush’s philosophy; they echo an aspect of it that the Left had lambasted as fatally idealistic. But where Bush can unapologetically adduce Iraq as the most potent example of democracy’s universal appeal, Obama has chosen to bury the Iraq success for political reasons. If Obama is going to walk the walk (we’re staying in Iraq) and talk the talk (democracy is universal), he needs to walk and talk at the same time, and own up to the political and ideological accomplishments on display in Iraq. When he follows up bold declarations of a universal democratic spirit with the weak sauce of Guantanamo apologies, he sounds as if he doesn’t believe his own words.