"I would remind the critics of the freedom agenda that the policy prior to September 11th was stability for the sake of stability: Let us not worry about the form of government. Let us simply worry about whether or not the world appears stable, whether or not we achieve short-term geopolitical gain," he says. "And it looked like that policy was working, and, frankly, it made some sense when it came to dealing with the Middle East vis-à-vis the Communists.
"The problem with that philosophy, or that foreign policy, was that beneath the surface boiled resentment and hatred, and that resentment and hatred helped fuel this radical Islam, and the radical Islam is what ended up causing the attacks that killed 3,000 of our citizens. So I vowed, and made the decision that not only would we stay on the offense and . . . get these people before they could attack us again. But in the long run the only way to make sure your grandchildren are protected, Paul, is to win the battle of ideas, is to defeat the ideology of hatred and resentment."
But would he concede that elections have so far empowered mainly the radicals? "It's a part of the process. I think Americans must remember we had some growing pains ourselves. It wasn't all that smooth a road to the Constitution to begin with in our own country. Democracy is not easy," he says, coiled and intense in his presidential flight jacket.
Take the Palestinian elections that elevated the terrorist group Hamas to power. [snip] Mr. Bush concedes that Hamas's "militant wing," as he calls it, is "unacceptable." But he says he sees a virtue in "creating a sense where people have to compete for people's votes. They have to listen to the concerns of the street." The answer is for other Palestinian leaders to out-compete Hamas to respond to those concerns. "Elections are not the end. They're only the beginning. And, no question, elections sometimes create victors that may not conform to everything we want. . . . On the other hand, it is the beginning of a more hopeful Middle East."
[Snip - shift to Iraq] Mr. Bush says partition would be "a mistake," though he does add that "the Iraqi people are going to have to make that decision." But he says Iraqis didn't vote for partition when they approved their new constitution or new government, and "this government has been in place since June; 90 days is a long time for some, but it's really not all that long to help a nation that was brutalized under a tyrant to get going."
Mr. Bush is most emphatic when he links Iraq to the larger struggle for Mideast reform. "In the long run, the United States is going to have to make a decision as to whether or not it will support moderates against extremists, reformers against tyrants. And Iraq is the first real test of the nation's commitment to this ideological struggle. . . . I believe it strongly. One way for the American people to understand the stakes is to envision what happens if America withdraws." [snip] "I said in my Inaugural Address, we should end tyranny in the 21st century," he says. "And I meant that."
It's a strategy. I've got problems with how well it's been executed, but it's a long-term strategy for ending the threat. And for all the complaints out there I haven't heard another one that sounds better to me.