Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2004 / 15 Teves, 5765
In the footsteps of FDR, Truman, JFK
"The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought" the president was speaking in Washington "are still at issue around the globe: the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of G-d."
George W. Bush has articulated this conviction many times, so it comes as no surprise to hear him say it again. Except that these aren't President Bush's words. The speaker was John F. Kennedy; the words are from his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961. Moments later came his famous assertion of an American mission to diffuse freedom and decency in the world:
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
When President Bush delivers his second inaugural address next month, he will doubtless restate his case for advancing democracy in the Arab Middle East. Bush argues that the promotion of freedom is directly linked to national security, since governments accountable to the people are inherently peaceful, while dictatorships are belligerent and untrustworthy. That is a view he shares with the Israeli statesman and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who develops it at length in a new book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror." (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
Bush has read Sharansky's book and recommended it to his advisers; last month he spent more than an hour discussing it with him in the Oval Office. But his belief that the spread of liberty should be a cornerstone of US foreign policy is one he has been expressing for many months.
"The advance of freedom is the calling of our time," he said last fall in an address to the National Endowment for Democracy. "As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace." He compared the current war against Islamist and Ba'athist fascists in Iraq to an earlier struggle against dictatorship the Cold War with the Soviet Union that began after World War II: "As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test."
The president who had come to the defense of Greece and West Berlin when they were threatened by communism was Harry Truman, and he too had used his inaugural address to sound a call for expanding the frontiers of liberty and democracy.
"We believe," Truman had said on Jan. 20, 1949, "that all men have a right to equal justice under law and equal opportunity to share in the common good. . . . We believe that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of G-d. From this faith we will not be moved. . . .
"Our efforts have brought new hope to all mankind. We have beaten back despair and defeatism. We have saved a number of countries from losing their liberty. . . . Events have brought our American democracy to new influence and new responsibilities. They will test our courage, our devotion to duty, and our concept of liberty. But I say to all men, what we have achieved in liberty, we will surpass in greater liberty."
Earlier still, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had vowed to use American might to spread freedom and self-government.
"Democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men's enlightened will," he declared in his third inaugural address in January 1941. "In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America." Four years later, he renewed that vow, reminding his countrymen in his final inaugural address that the fate of human freedom would continue to depend on them:
"Our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. . . . Almighty G-d has . . . given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mightily blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world."
Bush has acknowledged his debt to Ronald Reagan, who believed it was America's destiny to bring about the triumph of freedom over tyranny. Under Reagan the liberation of captive nations became a Republican cause, but for much of the 20th century it was liberal Democrats who championed the spread of democracy in the world. When Bush calls for waking the Arab world from its nightmare of repression and misrule, he is walking in the footsteps of Kennedy, Truman, and FDR. That's something today's Democratic Party might want to bear in mind.
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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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