William F. Buckley

President Bush is a victim of his idealistic certitudes. These have their place. It is hard to imagine how Great Britain would have survived the year 1942 without Churchill's apocalyptic reassurances, never mind that when they were spoken, they must have been the cause of laughter in the Nazi high command, which brought them in via radio antennas sitting on top of the Eiffel Tower. The problem has been that without Bush's high calls for global political reform, the American public would have gone along only reluctantly with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And enthusiasm for these wars is now flagging because we have assured ourselves that we aren't there to choke off nuclear arms development. We are there to save the locals from the kind of government they would have if left to their own resources.

We are struggling hard, but not hard enough, to reanimate our far-flung missions abroad. The distortions are by no means exclusively the result of Republican shortsightedness. We are acting out, in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideologies that trace back to the universalization of the American creed. We pronounced, in the Declaration of Independence, ideals we conceived of as universally appealing, but which no one had the least intention of exporting beyond the boundaries of the newly independent country.

All of that came much much later, becoming full-blown U.S. policy only in the reign of Woodrow Wilson, whose espousal of ideological diplomacy caused desperate problems for himself, his administration and the League of Nations. Missions for world reform came back in the late '30s, provoked by the universalist aims of Soviet communism and, though more finite in its appetites, the far reaches of the Nazis' Third Reich. The rhetoric of the Four Freedoms and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was there to justify international activity on the part of the United States: the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the hundred meetings of native idealists who reasoned, with great appeal, that the liberties we would not ourselves do without were written in a universal idiom, leaving us as chief agents of evangelism.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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