WHAT WAS SO GREAT about President Bush's inaugural address? First, it was eloquent, noting that freedom lights "a fire in the minds of men" and represents both "the hunger in dark places [and] the longing of the soul." More important, the speech laid out an extraordinarily sweeping and ambitious foreign policy for the nation. In doing so, Bush broke down the barrier between the foreign policy idealists, of which he and President Reagan are the most notable, and the realists, who include his father and his father's two chief advisers on foreign affairs, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker.
The most significant statement in the speech was simple and not lyrical at all: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." That's quite a declaration, one likely to unnerve tyrants and autocrats and even a few allies around the world. But Bush wasn't kidding or just riffing.
What the president added to his crusade for democracy made the policy all the more important. Bush said the creation of more democracies would have the effect making the United States more secure. Indeed, the need to seed freedom in as many countries as possible "is the urgent requirement of our nation's security and the calling of our time." In the same vein, he said: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." Though he didn't say so in the speech, the president believes the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a democratic Iraq will make America safer in the world. Likewise, the fall of dictators in other countries.
Nor did Bush flatly insist he'd smashed the barrier between the idealists--or moralists as they're often dubbed--and the realists. But he had. In fact, British prime minister Tony Blair has told him so. The idealists have as their ultimate goal in the world the spread of democracy. And Bush said he would wage a full-blown campaign for democracy, that now being "the policy." Democracy is a noble goal by itself, but the president said it carries the added value of making America more secure.
Security, of course, is the goal of the realists. They prefer democracies, but they're not adamant about it. If an autocratic country is friendly to the United States and opposes America's enemies, the realists are quite satisfied. Transforming such a country into a democracy would not be part of their foreign policy agenda. Think of Saudi Arabia in this regard, or Pakistan.
Bush rejects this thinking. The best way to achieve the realists' goal of maximum security for America, he believes, is for there to be more democracies in the world. In effect, Bush said the policy of idealists will lead to the goal of realists. "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one," he said. Boom! The wall between the two schools is gone, at least in the president's formulation.
This would be merely an intellectual breakthrough if Bush were, say, a political science professor at Rutgers. But because he's the leader of the world's only superpower, it's a major step in the right direction for the world. Now, he's got four years to pursue the policy into make the spread of freedom and democracy a reality.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.