George Packer has a beautifully pitched leader in this week’s New Yorker. It begins:
President Bush has put the idea of spreading democracy around the world at the rhetorical heart of American foreign policy. No one should doubt that he and his surviving senior advisers believe in what they call the â€œforward strategy of freedom,â€ even if theyâ€™ve had to talk themselves into it. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Bush himself are latecomers to the idea; in earlier incarnations, they sounded a lot more like Henry Kissinger than like Woodrow Wilson. By now, though, itâ€™s clear that, however clumsy and selective the execution, Bush wants democratization to be his legacy. So when his critics, here and abroad, claim that his rhetoric merely provides cynical cover for an American power grab, they misjudge his sincerity and tend to sound like defenders of the status quo. And when the Administration tries to wring every last sweet drop of partisan gain from its foreign policy (sincerity is not the same thing as honesty), critics are driven to conclude that â€œdemocracyâ€ is just another word for â€œneoconservatism.â€
This is not a good position for the opposition to be in, either morally or politically. The best role for critics in the Presidentâ€™s second term will be not to scoff at the idea of spreading freedom but to take it seriouslyâ€”to hold him to his own talk. The hard question isnâ€™t whether America should try to enlarge the democratic order but how. Itâ€™s a question that the Administration seems to have thought about very little, yet it makes a big difference.
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