[quote=“George Melloan, WSJ”]
A Nation of Liberators
No WMDs yet, and America shrugs. That’s because we value human rights.
BY GEORGE MELLOAN
Sunday, June 15, 2003 12:01 a.m.
The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq so far has been used against George W. Bush and Tony Blair by their political enemies in Europe. But very little has been made of it in the U.S., which bore the main cost of the war. Now, why would that be?
One explanation is that Americans were more focused than Europeans on what many regarded as the least important of the war’s goals, the liberation of the Iraqi people. Weapons of mass destruction, though terrible in concept, were something the U.S. became inured to during the Cold War. The chance of becoming a victim of terrorism, given the extensive law enforcement apparatus, seems less than that of being struck by lightning.
But the thought of masses of innocent people having been murdered by their own government is a horror that resonates from sea to shining sea. It awakens the ethos that has been a part of the national psyche since Virginia’s Patrick Henry in 1775 declaimed, in defiance of the British, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Human liberty was invoked by Woodrow Wilson on April 2,1917, when he asked Congress to declare war on Germany “to make the world safe for democracy.” Ronald Reagan demanded that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, and there were emotional cheers from Americans when East Germans themselves dismantled that odious barrier to human freedom in 1989.
This current is so strong in America that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought a great burst of patriotism. From my office window, I can look down on the construction site where the twin towers once stood and see a giant stars and stripes painted on the top of one of the utility buildings. Flags still flutter atop cars or from the windows of homes all over America.
Freedom House, one of innumerable private U.S. organizations that promote democracy and liberty, annually publishes a map depicting advances of freedom around the world. The National Endowment for Democracy, its two branches backed by the two major U.S. political parties, assists peoples striving for democratic rule. The State Department compiles annually an exhaustive report on the state of human rights in countries of the world.
So it should not be surprising, except perhaps to a few political sophisticates in Europe, that Americans would regard a government’s mistreatment of its own people along with its threats to other nations as a casus belli. The destruction of tyrannies gratifies the American sense of justice, one of the bulwarks of American democracy. It nurtures the concept of a “just war.”
But despite this powerful legacy, foreign-policy specialists in the U.S. sometimes seem embarrassed by the idea of the U.S. as a fighter of wars of liberation. They often prefer the more hardheaded, and more European, view that countries fight to defend their interests, meaning the protection of trade routes, or sources of oil or spheres of influence that have commercial rewards. Many wars have been fought for exactly those reasons, but usually there is no matter of justice at stake–only contests for power.
Europe, much to its credit, has largely outgrown the territorial conflicts and colonial wars that kept its armies occupied for centuries. That’s why with the end of the Cold War and the continued consolidation of states within the European Union, Europe’s armies have been in decline. With borders coming down and trade flowing freely, there is little support for territorial aggression.
But it should not be forgotten that U.S. soldiers were the key to liberating Europe from Nazi rule and it was U.S. statesmen who promoted the main postwar institutions of European unity, NATO and the forerunners to the EU. Japan as well was fortunate enough to be defeated by a power that regarded freedom and democracy as the key to peaceful progress.
Critics of the war in Iraq are now taking delight in detailing the “chaos” in that liberated state. But short memories forget that France was rather chaotic as well after the Germans were driven out, as partisans went to work on the French men and women who collaborated with the Germans. Indeed, there is still a tendency in France toward settling issues in the streets.
What is so often seen as chaos in Iraq is merely the turmoil of people who are finally free to express themselves openly. The political factions contending for influence and power are not unlike the factions that so troubled George Washington. Indeed, U.S. factional fighting remains as vigorous and strident today as it was then, but more firmly bound by the broad acceptance of law and precedent and ultimately controlled by the jealous regard free people have for their rights to choose their own leaders.
What’s happening in Iraq is called politics. Given the number of AK-47s scattered around the country and the deep animosities engendered during a savage dictatorship, it is at times a dangerous form of politics. L. Paul Bremer, the American administrator charged with pulling together a representative interim government that will arrange for free elections, has his hands full. Trying to build the institutions so necessary to democratic rule, most particularly a reliable and accessible system of justice, will proceed under severe handicaps, not least the difficulty of finding Iraqis who are respectful of individual rights and want to uphold them.
American efforts to promote liberty around the world have not always succeeded. The failure in Vietnam was traumatic, of course, and raised doubts in the minds of many Americans about the legitimacy of wars of liberation. Some State Department professionals came away from that experience with a sense that America had overreached in trying to impose its values on a distant nation. But that rather misses the point. Wars of liberation are meant to allow people the freedom to find and exercise their own values. Among Asians, the Japanese, South Koreans and Taiwanese have taken the road of democratic capitalism when it was opened to them.
Global politics are never simple. But all signs indicate that Americans have no regrets about Iraq, for reasons firmly imbedded in the nation’s history.
Mr. Melloan is deputy editor, international of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. His column appears in the Journal Tuesdays.[/quote]