Ross Mackenzie

We are thankful in this season for ... what?

For love and family? For abundance? For a benevolent Lord? For life itself - particularly in the opinion of those who, having peered into the abyss, embrace life daily as distinctly preferable to the alternative?

Yes, all those things - and more. But how about special thanks for a president determined to extend democracy to barren precincts of the world - notably in the Middle East?

Democracy gone bananas can become ochlocratic (as, paradigmatically, in France in 1789), even anarchic. But nowhere does liberty flourish under a nondemocratic regime. It never has. And liberty is the ultimate cause.

Perhaps the al-Qaidists and Talibans and Baathists did us a favor. Many have derided President Bush as a stupid, aimless rich boy. Whether that critique is true, this is: Sept. 11 left him a man transformed. His administration is driven by two doctrines revolutionary in intellectually arthritic Washington: preemptive war and the expansion of democracy's realm. Both doctrines serve America's long-term interests, but principally to the extent that they serve liberty.

Mere nodders to democracy nevertheless argue that it cannot work everywhere because of extenuating circumstances. It cannot work, they say, in lands dominated by Islam and/or Arab ethnicity - e.g., in Iraq. They say it cannot work because the people are insufficiently educated or just too stupid. They say it cannot work because anti-democratic regimes, notable across the Middle Eastern landscape, would have to be overthrown, and regime replacement is none of our legitimate business. They said similar things following World War II about Germany and Japan.

The prudent response, evidently embraced by President Bush, is this:

Such arguments - arrogant, racist and anti-Islamic - probably never contained any truth. Yet 9/11 should have awakened us to the need to prove those arguments wrong. For one 9/11 may mean two 9/11s and then many (remember, a generation ago, the cry "One, two, many Vietnams!"?) And the ideas for more 9/11s fester and grow most fertilely in anti-democratic minds.

Nearby, President Bush - that dumb Dubya - spells out his doctrine of preemptive democracy in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. He explains the importance of success there, of what he is trying to do there. With his preemptive war speech at West Point 18 months ago, this may be the most important speech of his presidency, indeed of this generation. His Endowment for Democracy speech collects cogently remarks he has made on the theme during the past several months.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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