A great democratic revolution

Posted: Sep 17, 2002 12:00 AM
"A great democratic revolution is taking place in our midst; everybody sees it, but by no means everybody judges it in the same way. Some think it a new thing and, supposing it an accident, hope that they can still check it; others think it irresistible because it seems to them the most continuous, ancient and permanent tendency known to history." These are the words written by Alexis de Tocqueville in his seminal study, "Democracy in America," published in 1835, and his prescient observation is even more relevant today. Looking around the world, we see incredible challenges, even crises, abound. Interestingly, the Chinese word for "crisis" includes the characters meaning danger and opportunity. While danger is certainly present, we must not miss the historic opportunity to promote democracy, freedom and human rights. First the bad news: In the Middle East there is continued violence. Support for suicide bombers and terrorists from regimes and organizations sympathetic to terrorists remains a threat not only to the region but also to U.S. foreign policy. And in Afghanistan the situation remains perilous and in danger of spinning out of control. Despite these seemingly intractable problems, the inexorable global progress toward democracy, free markets and the dream of equality pushes forward. But there is also some good news. Incredibly, just last week Yasser Arafat had to accept the resignation of his Cabinet in order to avoid a no-confidence vote from legislators, proving he has no mandate to lead. While Palestinian spokesmen protest President George W. Bush's call for democratic reform in Palestine, the reality is that for the past few years opinion polls have consistently shown that Palestinians are deeply critical of Arafat's performance with respect to the economy, human rights and corruption. The Palestinian people are not blind to democratic and economic prosperity in Israel, and many are beginning to see that they are being left behind. However, the recent attempt to assassinate Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai indicates that much work remains to be done. After the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, the West allowed the power vacuum to be filled by the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. Thus, we have a moral and political obligation to support the new government in any way we can, and that's why I recently called for a 21st century Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine. After Afghanistan is made secure, we must then proceed to help the country to realize the goal of a functioning government and to create a viable economy -- including the creation of a transportation infrastructure, basic health care and primary education. Looking forward, it seems at least two fundamental visions of the 21st century are in direct competition. One, articulated by Francis Fukuyama in "The End of History," concludes that liberal democracy has defeated all ideological rivals and "may very well be the end point of mans ideological evolution." The other vision, represented by Samuel Huntington in "The Clash of Civilizations" concludes that the most dangerous dimension emerging in international relations "would be conflicts between groups from different civilizations." In the aftermath of 9/11, many have argued that we have not reached the "end of history" as much as we have reverted back toward more ancient rivalries based on religion and culture and that we are inevitably headed toward a "clash of civilizations." I disagree. I think the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent war against terrorism prove that the radical Islamists, rather than representing an emerging "clash of civilizations," are waging a clash against civilization -- modernity and democratic freedom. I think Bush said it best when he stated, "We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions -- by abandoning every value except the will to power -- they will follow in the path of fascism and Nazism and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies." The globalization of peace, democracy and free markets has been the hallmark of America's foreign policy. It is what Abraham Lincoln summed up as the predicate of his political philosophy when he said the Declaration of Independence is what "gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world, for all future time." The 21st century must not be an American century alone, but rather a century of liberal democracy and freedom for all.