Tuesday, January 25, 2005

How much freedom does a man need?

Cyber Age/ND Batra/From The Statesman

“And then there came a day of fire,” Bush said at his second inaugural indirectly referring to terrorists’ attacks that pulled the United States out of a long slumber. Rather too soon, the end of communism had brought about a sense of complacency, a grand illusion as if it were the end of history seen as struggle in the Hegelian sense, and the final triumph of freedom. As Francis Fukuyama prematurely gushed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Of course that did not happen. It did not happen in Russia after the Soviet Union dissipated; and it did not happen in China in spite of 1989 Tiananman Square pro-democracy protests and in spite of rapid economic growth and broadening prosperity under state controlled market capitalism. China has been growing at the rate of 8-9 percent for more than a decade and is on the path to become an economic and military superpower in the next few decades. If the authoritarian rule has not hindered China from growing at a phenomenal rate to which there seems to be no end, one might wonder: How could they do it without civil liberties? How much freedom does a man need?

Democracy did not happen in the Muslim-Arab world where Islamic fundamentalism, partly as a reaction to the Soviet communism and partly due to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, has been taking hold of the hearts and minds of the people. In fact after the collapse of the Soviet Union worldwide tyranny might have increased, if metrics were available. China has ceased to be an imminent threat as its economic growth became increasingly tied up with exports to the United States and foreign direct investments. Along with that human rights including Tibet too ceased to be an issue in the United States and China relations. Between the United Sates and Saudi Arabia or other pro-American Arab countries in the region where Islamic fundamentalism has been holding a long sway, human rights and freedom were seldom an issue. After the 2001 terrorists attacks, the United States clasped Pakistan with financial and military ties to make it an ally against the Taliban and Ala Qaeda terrorism. And to maintain its hold over Pakistan, the United States overlooked even the black-marketing of nuclear technology by one of its most revered scientists, AQ Khan. Unelected generals rule the land.

Is this diplomatic paradigm shift from the realpolitik of supping with the devil to the messianic fervor of universally spreading freedom for the real? Or was the inaugural rhetoric of liberty a latter-day rationale for the invasion of Iraq where though weapons of mass destruction could not be found, the tyrant had to be removed nonetheless for the spread of liberty?

Bush said that the United States would remain vulnerable to terrorism so long tyranny and hate ideology prevailed abroad and for which there’s no other solution except to expand freedom. “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world…. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government because no one is fit to be a master and no one deserves to be a slave.” Bush has come to the same conclusion as Abraham Lincoln had reached at the time the Civil War, “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” So the ultimate guarantee for freedom at home is to end tyranny abroad by supporting “the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture….” But what about poverty and disease?

Bush is not going to challenge every authoritarian nation: Democratize or else. He may not push guns for freedom but he is certainly not going to give up what he has already undertaken. With Iraq in mind, Bush said, “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet, because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom.”

Elections in Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority have kindled some hope that eventually elections and sharing of power in Iraq might bring about the beginning of law and order in Iraq too. And keeping in mind the forcefulness and the tenor of his inaugural address, Bush cannot run away from his commitment to establish a semblance of democratic regime in Iraq. The January 30 elections in Iraq in many ways would be a momentous event to watch, probably another bloody day to which the world has become used to do, nonetheless, a new day when millions of Iraqis would exercise their freedom.

But a free country too could harbor terrorists. Nor does freedom mean the end of poverty and unemployment, a fertile ground for terrorism. The Bush freedom package must include economic aid including preferential trade for poor countries.

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