Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 21, 2005
WAR: Bully Pulpit
One of the core convictions that separates conservatives from liberals - and, to some extent, libertarians as well - is the importance conservatives place on strong law enforcement, a strong military and a tough foreign policy. In his Second Inaugural Address yesterday, President Bush said something that really cut to the core of that conviction:
Now, I got pushed around a lot when I was younger, and probably the main reason I became a conservative, even before I started thinking through the other aspects of conservatism, was the realization that conservatives know how to deal with bullies, which is to say not through negotiation or paying them off, but by confronting them with superior force.
On the other hand, this struck me as going too far, and something Bush will live to regret:
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:
There is, it is true, no question that the Bush Administration's sympathies will lie with everyone who fights for liberty and democracy, and that the White House and the State Department will issue nice little press releases on their behalf, which is better than nothing. And it's also true that our end objective is to promote liberty and democracy everywhere.
But we shouldn't pretend that we will stand up equally for dissidents against every regime, because we won't. Winning a long-term global war means picking our battles and, among other things, deciding where we can live with unsavory allies for a time. That means, in practical reality, that we're not going to do very much to support pro-democracy forces in, say, Turkmenistan, because we have bigger fish to fry at the moment.
This fact is why I give no credence to complaints that the U.S. is somehow hypocritical in promoting democracy in some places while making alliances of convenience with nasty dictators in others. Our long-term goal of promoting democracy and liberty is unchanged, but we have to get there by starting somewhere. Complaints about hypocrisy are like the case of a man who decides to repaint his house from blue to green, and his neighbor comes by a few weeks later and says, "You hypocrite! You said you wanted a green house, but here we stand weeks later and the whole back of the house is still blue, while you lavish green paint on the front; why can't you put green paint on all sides of the house equally?" Naturally, the man will reply, "you idiot! I'm trying to finish painting the front of the house, and get that job done right, before I start the back."
Bush, unfortunately, made it sound yesterday like we intend to paint all sides of the house equally, which we can't, shouldn't and won't.
On the other hand, I did like Jonah Goldberg's line about the speech: "I wish someone would wrap a dead fish with it and drop it off at the Saudi embassy."