Does 'W.' Stand for Wilson?

An American foreign policy based mainly on fear can't last too long.

And so last Thursday, after two years of rallying the country to fight against terrorism, President Bush laid out in a major speech what his administration would mainly fight for: democracy in the Middle East, and indeed in any Muslim nation.

George W. Bush is not the first US president to declare such a vision in response to a world calamity such as the threat from Al Qaeda.

After World War I, Woodrow Wilson tried to rally the world for democracy, just as Franklin Roosevelt wanted Europe to give up its colonies after World War II. Toward the end of the cold war, Ronald Reagan began to abandon US support of anticommunist dictators and set up foundations to promote democracy.

Nor is Mr. Bush the first president to cast aside doubts that certain people, religions, and cultures just aren't ready for or compatible with for democracy. Since 1987, the Chinese on Taiwan have had a lively democracy, and no thanks to those who said Confucian culture wouldn't stand for it. Latin America, despite endemic corruption, rediscovered democracy in the 1980s. Most nations of the former Soviet bloc, many of which never knew a real ballot box, have set down democratic roots. And the world's largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, has enjoyed free elections since 1998.

Bush also cast aside warnings that the US should be careful what it wishes for. Islamic radicals might just win an election fair and square and then use any means to stay in power. But world progress can't be held hostage to such a fear.

The worst that can be said of this new Bush doctrine is that the president may not act on it. Last summer, he was emboldened to solve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis but has since cooled to the effort. How long will he continue the old-style friendly ties with nations such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt if they don't quickly adopt democratic reforms? Democrats should hold him accountable to his own standard.

Critics say Bush merely wants to divert attention from the embarrassment of not yet finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Even so, Bush has found the best "vision thing" to rally Americans and allies toward the goal of building up societies that won't nurture terrorism, and not just the goal of killing terrorists.

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