George Will

WASHINGTON -- U.S. warships carrying 2,300 Marines are off Liberia's coast, U.S. forces still are in harm's way in Afghanistan and U.S. military deaths in Iraq are, as this is written, just nine short of the total before President Bush declared major combat operations over. But some people think America is underengaged abroad.

For example, the presidents of Oxfam America and Refugees International, writing in The Washington Post in support of intervention in Liberia, urge the Bush administration to confront ``head-on'' many crises: ``Central Asia, the Balkans and Western Africa are areas of the world that provide too many examples of what happens when U.S. power is not used proactively.'' Such incitements to foreign policy hyperkinesis can draw upon the messianic triumphalism voiced by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in last month's address to a rapturous Congress:

``There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values, or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's savior. ...

``Ours are not Western values, they are the universal values of the human spirit. And anywhere, anytime ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police."

Neoconservatives seem more susceptible than plain conservatives are to such dodgy rhetoric and false assertions.

Disregard Blair's straw men: no one says Afghan women were ``content," Saddam was ``beloved" and Milosevic was a ``savior." But Blair suggests that unless you believe such preposterous things, you surely believe that "freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law" are not exclusively Western values. But what does that mean?

Certainly not only Westerners value, or can come to value, those things. But certainly not everyone everywhere shares ``our attachment to freedom." Freedom is not even understood the same way everywhere, let alone valued the same way relative to other political goods (equality, security, piety, etc.).

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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