Toward a moral foreign policy

Posted: Nov 17, 2004 12:00 AM

In nominating Condoleezza Rice to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State, President Bush has chosen someone who is a kindred spirit. The two not only subscribe to the same religious beliefs, they also believe that America has been commissioned to share its freedom with the rest of the world.

Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and current Israeli government official, told me the president invited him to the White House a few days ago to discuss Sharansky's new book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror," which he said the president had nearly finished and Dr. Rice was also reading. The book is a powerful argument for spreading freedom around the world as the ultimate weapon against totalitarian societies and fundamentalist movements.

Sharansky states his premise in the introduction:

I am convinced that all people desire to be free. I am convinced that freedom anywhere will make the world safer everywhere. And I am convinced that democratic nations, led by the United States, have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe.

Dr. Rice and the president believe in the same doctrine about freedom. An insight to her thinking is found in a Feb. 6, 2003, address she gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. As President Bush listened intently, Dr. Rice spoke of struggle, from her days in segregated Alabama (some of her friends were killed in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963), to the battle against terrorism in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. She said that directing the energies from our struggles toward the good of others is something that channels the negatives of pain, bad memories and a sense of unfairness toward a beneficial objective.

"America emerged from the losses of September 11th as a nation that is not only stronger, but hopefully better and more generous," she said. "Tragedy made us appreciate our freedom more - and more conscious of the fact that God gives all people, everywhere, the right to be free. It made us more thankful for our own prosperity, for life, and health - and more aware that all people everywhere deserve the opportunity to build a better future."

This philosophy, or faith, is what motivates the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East and the world. It is about as noble a purpose as one can have - sharing freedom with others who do not have it.

There is an important distinction between the freedom desired by Southern blacks in the days of Dr. Rice's youth - and nations under Soviet domination in the years of Natan Sharansky's imprisonment - and the freedom the administration wants to offer the Middle East.

Southern blacks and millions in Eastern Europe and Russia yearned to breath free. It is arguable whether those throughout the Arab and Muslim world want our kind of freedom, which they see as decadence. Most of them appear to regard what they consider their spiritual freedom as having greater value than the political freedom we enjoy.

Sharansky pays tribute to skeptics who believe in the doctrine of freedom as a divine right, and questions whether that part of the world in which we are now engaged resembles Eastern Europe during Soviet domination: "While democracy has spread across the globe, the Middle East remains a sea of tyranny. There are 22 Arab states and not one of them is democratic, even by the weakest of definitions. Moreover, there has never been an Arab democracy, and with the exception of a handful of tyrannies around the world, the world's most repressive regimes are in the Middle East. So while President Bush may 'know' that freedom is the 'future of every nation,' many others can be forgiven for disagreeing." (Italics his.)

Condoleezza Rice does not disagree. While Colin Powell sees the world in more secular tones - nuanced and in shades of gray - Dr. Rice and the president sing from the same hymnbook. If they are right about the contagion of freedom, they may unleash a movement that can positively affect more people than the collapse of the Soviet Union. If they are wrong - and the evidence is far heavier on this side of the argument - the consequences, to borrow a theological term with which they are familiar, could be Armageddon.

The stakes don't get any higher than this.