The Staying-Power Issue

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The way we read the Middle East at the moment, part of the problems relate to a certain nervousness about the endurance of America’s commitment to advancing democracy and freedom there. It’s no secret that some Americans of the Francis Fukuyama variety are losing faith in the mission, if they had any to begin with. And given America’s history of retreat under fire in recent years, from Saigon to Somalia, those weighing whether to throw in with America have some reason to be cautious. Amir Taheri underscored this line of thinking in a piece in the March 29 Wall Street Journal, reporting that he recently visited America to find out whether there is truth in “the assumption that Mr. Bush is an aberration and that his successor will ‘run away.'”

To some extent American popular sentiment depends on what the people in the Middle East themselves do. Americans loved it when Iraqis risked their lives to vote, and Americans were inspired by the crowds that gathered in the streets of Beirut to protest the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Images of suicide bombings inspire less confidence. But what the people in the Middle East do is itself related to what they expect America to do. In a sense, it’s a circular situation. So how to reassure those wavering Middle Easterners that America is in for the long haul and intends to stand by them, endure, and win the war rather than simply declaring victory and re treating?

The 2008 presidential candidates from both parties could help by issuing a joint statement. Or imagine if the Congress were to pass a Sense of the Congress resolution putting members of both parties on record with a simple statement of policy: “Resolved, it is and shall be the policy of the United States to support the advance of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and around the world. This policy is consistent with American values and interests.” One could fiddle to make clear that this was not a congressional usurpation of the Article II authority to conduct foreign policy, and to make sure it isn’t a back-door declaration of war.

Let the congressmen or presidential candidates who feel that America should not support the advance of freedom and democracy abroad vote against the resolution. And let them then explain to the voters why freedom and democracy don’t deserve our support, and why, say, oil interests, or military deals America has cut with local tyrants, or the supposed “stability” that in fact helped produce the terrorists, should take priority. Let the Congress hold hearings at which advocates of freedom and democracy in countries now lacking it can come explain to Americans how they are oppressed and why our help is vital. This would demonstrate to the world that the Bush doctrine will outlast the Bush presidency, and that it is American consensus.

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