Saturday, May 07, 2005

Past Wounds

In the inauguration speech of his second term, President Bush laid down the case for Freedom and Liberty all over the world, America’s renewed commitment to these principles and articulated the case that these principles are the true bulwark against Terrorism and America’s security in general. It was a dramatic and highly moralistic formulation of American Foreign Policy. After grasping the nobleness of that policy, when one analyzes it in more details it becomes apparent that President Bush’s past has not been particularly in compliance to those principles. The reasons on which the Iraq war was based in the first place and was started; were anything but Liberty to Iraqi people. The primary motivation was finding WMD and perceived security concerns. However, granting that American President wants to make a fresh start and another run for these lofty goals; President Bush needs to do at least two things: acknowledge the past deviations of American Foreign Policy from these principles and formulating contemporary foreign policy responses based on these principles.

President Bush’s speech in Riga on May 7, 2005 shows the light as far as the first expectation is concerned. With a kind of pleasant surprise, he admitted that it was wrong for America and in effect for FDR to yield to Stalin at Yalta. These are classical Conservative reflections for a Republican President and Republican Leader. He dared to make it open that many Americans kind of felt their sacrifices in WWII were not fully accounted or wasted when entire Eastern Europe just changed the hands of tyrants at the end of that war. It is the cathartic process for America and quite natural for a Republican to take the lead in this respect. There was one earlier Republican President – Regan – who worked with many others to wage the subsequent Cold War doggedly to end that tyranny. So it is remarkable and admirable for President Bush in being bold to acknowledge America’s failing in holding the principle of respect for the freedom of people of many smaller nations in Eastern Europe. Indeed, he is coming well on the first part of what he has been trying to make a lynch pin of his second term. It is truly a good start to pursue such policies in a coherent manner.

Of course there are a political calculations of not letting an opportunity to make a dig at an icon of Democrats. But that is how in the end politics works for people – two competitive political forces / parties not letting go mistakes or failures of the other side. It is one sided from each party, but balances out for the people. Democrats may find indirect criticism of their beloved leader on foreign soil, sort of low in taste. But they need to over come such feelings. Presidency is probably one the few or almost the unique bully pulpit that can offer the revisionist reading of actions of past. Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, can not worry where the chips fall when a sitting president decides to reflect on past decisions and intends to make good on setting the record straight. What matters is Presidency fulfilling the obligations of expressing American morality in fair manner; even if it is late for History. It is also President Bush’s second term, so he has started his dialogue with past American Presidents. May be bit early, but this obsession with ‘legacy’ will start soon to surface in speeches of President Bush. Riga speech could be the first glimpses.

It was also right for President Bush to reject suggestion to work out any kind of political arrangements for other Russian satellite states (for example Belarus) in consultation with Russian. It is obvious that you do not make such a simple mistake – on one hand criticize that past secrete dealings at the expense of common people of smaller states are wrong and at the same time work for one such in present times. It is almost the sigh of relief because on many occasions President Bush has shown to fall for such simple mistakes and contradictions.

Does it mean Russia would get the message and will be more respecting to sovereignty of its neighbor? Not likely, simply look at Putin’s message in a French Newspaper. He rejects any further apologies for past Russian actions. I do not know how significant this business of ‘apology’ is. Unfortunately contemporary International Politics has been driven lately too much by this ‘apology’ business – China and Korea demanding apology from Japan, former Russian satellite states expecting apology from Russia and so on. Politics of apology has always been played through out History but is not known to solve the true problems all the time. So one needs to be wary of starting such politics of apology again in the 21st century. Instead of any apologies, it could be more productive for Russia to start respecting sovereignty of all these East European states going forward. A speech like the one at Riga by President Bush makes the ground clear to set a framework where actions by Russian government are hold accountable.

Now, we are waiting for President Bush to come good on the second part – avoiding the traps of being circumspect in dealing with many other dictators around world: his partner in War on Terrorism, President Mushraf of Pakistan; his oily friends from Saudi Arabia; dictators in Middle East like President Mubarak of Egypt and Sirian regime and most importantly mother of all dictator regimes – Communist Party hegemony in People’s Republic of China. It is all right to ignore the circumstances which might have forced FDR to comprise with Stalin while letting go Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain. But then it becomes imperative for President Bush not to allow those very same petty calculations to blind him from not taking the high road.

American people may even accept the nuclear weapons of Kim Ill Jong of North Korea if President Bush makes opposition to open talks with a dictator as matter of principles. Yes, it is ultra risky policy route. But then as a leader it will be President Bush’s job to lay down all the consequences of such a policy for American people. As long as President Bush avoids coming clean in all these dealings with these dictators; American people are ill prepared to take this risky route. Coming clean involves stating a clear and consistent policy regarding NPT and nuclear weapons; not simply sustaining increasingly ill suited arrangements of history after WWII. Without such a comprehensive framework, it will prohibit President Bush to take any principled stance against Kim Ill Jung.

In any case it is a remarkable transformation for a political leader to take on the religion of ‘popular mandate’ after what happened to his mandate in Election 2000. Finally, America gave President Bush the popular mandate in Election 2004 and then he is all set to realize his vision. So far he has avoided to give any ting of a ‘crusade’ to this campaign of Liberty all over the world and that is good.

Umesh Patil
May 7, 2005
San Jose, CA

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