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.
His speech recalls the comment of Barry Goldwater, before his own run for the presidency: "I propose to extend freedom. ... And if I should be accused of neglecting my constituents' 'interests,' I shall respond I was informed their main interest is liberty, and in that cause I am doing the very best I can."
It won't be easy. Revolution never is. Americans will die, as anti-democratic terrorists are targeting them here and abroad. The process in Iraq and beyond will take years, decades, generations - as the president says. But the enterprise will succeed. It has to. Its ultimate failure will mean not only that those who contend democracy is not for everyone are right. Failure will lead to the encircling and demise of liberty across the globe.
And so in gratitude for preemption in defense of right reason and for democracy and for the extension of freedom, a holiday season toast by the great Anonymous:
"To food and friends and family;
To life and love and liberty."
The following is a Washington Post condensation of President Bush's Nov. 6 speech marking the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy:
"We've witnessed in little over a generation the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500-year story of democracy. ... It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world's most influential nation was itself a democracy. The United States made military and moral commitments in Europe and Asia which protected free nations from aggression and created the conditions in which new democracies could flourish.
As we provided security for whole nations, we also provided inspiration for oppressed peoples...
The progress of liberty is a powerful trend. Yet we also know that liberty, if not defended, can be lost.
The success of freedom is not determined by some dialectic of history. By definition, the success of freedom rests upon the choices and the courage of free peoples and upon their willingness to sacrifice.
In the trenches of World War I, through a two-front war in the 1940s, the difficult battles of Korea and Vietnam, and in missions of rescue and liberation on nearly every continent, Americans have amply displayed our willingness to sacrifice for liberty.
The sacrifices of Americans have not always been recognized or appreciated, yet they have been worthwhile.
Because we and our allies were steadfast, Germany and Japan are democratic nations that no longer threaten the world. A global nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union ended peacefully, as did the Soviet Union. The nations of Europe are moving toward unity..."
"Every nation has learned, or should have learned, an important lesson: Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for, and standing for, and the advance of freedom leads to peace.
And now we must apply that lesson in our own time. We've reached another great turning point, and the resolve we show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement.
Our commitment to democracy is tested in countries like Cuba and Burma and North Korea and Zimbabwe, outposts of oppression in our world. The people in these nations live in captivity and fear and silence. Yet these regimes cannot hold back freedom forever. And one day, from prison camps and prison cells and from exile, the leaders of new democracies will arrive.
Communism and militarism and rule by the capricious and corrupt are the relics of a passing era. And we will stand with these oppressed peoples until the day of liberation and freedom finally arrives.
Our commitment to democracy is tested in China. The nation now has a sliver, a fragment of liberty. Yet China's peoples will eventually want their liberty pure and whole...
Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come...
Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to representative government. ... It should be clear to all that Islam, the faith of one-fifth of humanity, is consistent with democratic rule. Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries: in Turkey, Indonesia and Senegal and Albania and Niger and Sierra Leone.
Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, the nations of Western Europe, and of the United States of America. More than half of all Muslims live in freedom under democratically constituted governments.
They succeed in democratic societies, not in spite of their faith, but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability and encourages the encounter of the individual with God is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government..."
"In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling, whole societies remain stagnant while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines...
Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere, but some governments still cling to the old habits of central control...
Instead of dwelling on past wrongs and blaming others, governments in the Middle East need to confront real problems and serve the true interests of their nations....
Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are beginning to see the need for change. Morocco has a diverse new parliament. King Mohammed has urged it to extend the rights to women....
In Bahrain last year, citizens elected their own parliament for the first time in nearly three decades. Oman has extended the vote to all adult citizens.
Qatar has a new constitution. Yemen has a multiparty political system. Kuwait has a directly elected national assembly. And Jordan held historical elections this summer....
As changes come to the Middle Eastern region, those with power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform or for leading it?
In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad, as we saw last month, when thousands gathered to welcome home Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize....
For the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy....
The Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections. ... The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East...."
"As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not, and should not, look like us. ... And working democracies always need time to develop, as did our own. ... There are, however, essential principles common to every successful society in every culture.
Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military so that governments respond to the will of the people and not the will of the elite.
Successful societies protect freedom, with a consistent impartial rule of law, instead of selectively applying the law to punish political opponents.
Successful societies allow room for healthy civic institutions, for political parties and labor unions and independent newspapers and broadcast media.
Successful societies guarantee religious liberty; the right to serve and honor God without fear of persecution.
Successful societies privatize their economies and secure the rights of property. They prohibit and punish official corruption and invest in the health and education of their people. They recognize the rights of women. And instead of directing hatred and resentment against others, successful societies appeal to the hopes of their own people.
These vital principles are being applied in the nations of Afghanistan and Iraq....
Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. ... This is a massive and difficult undertaking. ... It is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes: The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world and increase dangers to the American people and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region.
Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution...."
"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty....
Therefore the United States has adopted a new policy: a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East...
We believe that liberty is the direction of history. ... And we believe that freedom, the freedom we prize, is not for us alone. It is the right and the capacity of all mankind...
With all the tests and all the challenges of our age, this is, above all, the age of liberty."