Accessibility links

Promoting Universal Freedom


In defending the United States' involvement in Iraq, President Bush says the world will someday ask whether Americans were true to their country's fundamental belief in the universality of freedom and were willing to act on it.

President Bush recently spoke about the universality of freedom to American troops in Iraq. He also raised the issue at a news conference after the U.S.-European Union summit in Vienna, and in Budapest to the people of Hungary. "The desire for liberty is universal, because it is written by our Creator into the hearts of every man, woman and child on this Earth," said President Bush.

America's third president and author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, expressed in that document the idea that people are endowed by their Creator with an unalienable right to liberty.

"Nevertheless, there are people who don't like liberty," says David Boaz, an Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. Boaz recognizes that slave masters and tyrants limit the exercise of liberty, but not the innate and inextinguishable desire for freedom by peoples everywhere, regardless of religious conviction.

"As people, we have these rights and that's one of the things that makes it universal because, of course, the Christian God is not universally worshipped in the world. But I do believe that liberty is a universal value and people can come to appreciate it through different religious and philosophical systems," says Boaz.

Military Intervention and Democracy

Most critics of the Iraq War do not dispute President Bush's goal of creating an Iraqi democracy, but rather his use of military force to help liberate the country.

David Boaz says many nations have paid for their liberty in blood, though he questions whether the army of one country should go into another in the name of freedom. "I think it's hard to teach people freedom when you're militarily occupying their country. I think the United States should be a beacon of liberty," says Boaz. "As John Quincy Adams said, 'America should be friend and well-wisher to the liberty of all, but the vindicator only of her own.'"

John Quincy Adams, America's sixth president, warned against engaging in armed struggles for the independence of other nations. Adams said the glory of the United States is "not dominion, but liberty" and that "her march is the march of the mind."

Nonetheless, President Woodrow Wilson sent troops overseas in World War One after campaigning on a pledge to keep America out of the conflict. But German submarine attacks on U.S. shipping prompted Wilson to act. Often described as America's most idealistic president, Wilson declared, "The world must be made safe for democracy."

During his campaign for the White House, President Bush pledged not to engage in nation-building abroad. President Bush changed his position as Americans reacted in horror to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Freedom Center at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, says President Bush now seeks to advance liberty as a form of national security, "President Bush clings to a highly idealistic international world view, combined at the same time, though, with a hard-edged sense of what is in the U.S. national interest."

For example, Mr. Bush says the Middle East without democracy will remain a place of "stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation."

Democratization vs. Westernization

Critics, however, say President Bush is engaging in a unilateral policy that ignores the complex history of Iraq, which was created by Great Britain after the World War One collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Among the skeptics is French President Jacques Chirac, who warns that the American and British goal of spreading democracy could be confused with colonialism.

"We must avoid any confusion between democratization and westernization. For although our memory is sometimes short, the peoples who have submitted to the West's domination in the past have not forgotten and are quick to see a resurgence of imperialism and colonialism in our actions," says Chirac.

Nile Gardiner of The Heritage Foundation says President Chirac raises a legitimate question whether democracy is perceived as a Western imposition. However, Gardiner argues that democracy is a universal ideal that need not violate local values. "We are pushing very hard for an indigenous form of democratic society to be established. We simply cannot impose our own precise vision of how Iraqi society should develop. Ultimately, it will be up to the Iraqis themselves," says Garfdiner.

Critics of U.S. policy toward Iraq say liberty should be spread through peaceful means, such as diplomacy, trade, and exchange programs. President Bush says Iraq is the front line in the war against terror, which poses a global threat too serious to ignore.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

XS
SM
MD
LG