True, Bush and others are over-claiming progress and underestimating the dangers that lie ahead. We accept democracy as normal; it is not. Democracy is the most radical and revolutionary political idea in the world. Having an election does not, on its own, lead to good government (think of Russia), and democracy can completely fail (as in Zimbabwe). But it can also over time succeed spectacularly (for example, in eastern Europe and East Asia). Democracy is full of risk, but nothing is more full of hope — ask the voters of Iraq, Ukraine, Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere, who so treasure their right to vote that they risk their lives for it.
A foreign policy without principle will fail because it is fundamentally sterile. That is why unadorned so-called “realism” in foreign policy, with its emphasis on stability and the status quo, can sound clever and sophisticated but in the end implodes under its own emptiness. But principle must be pursued with pragmatism and with patience if it is not to end in recklessness and aggression.
The key thing for those on the Left to understand is that intense dislike of Bush and echoes of Vietnam do not make a foreign policy. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Bolton – they too will pass. What will go on is the great human desire to be free, which should be at the core of our foreign policy. The great danger for the Left is that its Vietnam and Bush obsessions may mean that it will end up on the wrong side of history.
Hat Tip: Norm in New York.