Bushes, Oil and Idealism

Lauri Tähtinen on EVAn Juniorikumppani, joka opiskelee viimeistä vuotta kansainvälisiä suhteita London School of Economics:ssa.

It is not about oil. Thus spoke Douglas Hurd, the long-time British Foreign Secretary and now an active member of the House of Lords, at the London School of Economics earlier this week. During his six years in office (1989-1995), including the heated days of the first Gulf War, the issue of oil was never seriously raised. His understanding of Anglo-American policy is based on ample experience, having served under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major and consequently also collaborated with both George Bush Senior’s and Bill Clinton’s Cabinets. Lord Hurd was overtly critical of Bush Junior’s and Tony Blair’s undertaking. His wise words urged us to look at what lies beyond the oil, more precisely, at the ideas forming their actions.

Over the past week, George Bush Junior delivered two notable speeches: one at The National Endowment for Democracy and the other at The Heritage Foundation. Especially, the former of the two has the seeds of history-making awaiting cultivation. It is too early to venture off to definitive conclusions however, the ‘Forward Strategy of Freedom’ in the Middle East may become a landmark. The formerly ubiquitous acronym, WMD, was not enunciated at all. It was replaced with a powerful revival of idealism, not only as rhetoric, but as the driving-force behind military action. President Bush wants his ‘F’-word to be placed side by side with its Wilson’s Fourteen Points and Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Ronald Reagan’s name and commitment to aggressive policy earned over half a dozen references. According to Bush’s reading, on a grand scale, ‘liberty is the direction of history’.

Where is the oil in all this? Clearly, a liberal democratic Iraq would be more eager to trade with the West. However, every sober-minded analyst should be able to conclude that it would be utterly frivolous to sacrifice international goodwill for such an instrumental objective. Let’s face it: the ideas are real – and they drive policy. For ideologically disillusioned Nordics this may be initially hard to grasp. It is even more demanding to comprehend, why the fraudulent claims of powerful weapons were uttered as distraction. Quite plausibly with the advantage of retrospective analysis they can be seen as having served a role of a rationalist-pragmatic camouflage for a more radical agenda that has now been revealed. Many in the Bush administration have harboured the ideas of aggressive promotion of freedom, democracy and human rights for years. Now they have the chance to breathe life, or death, into them.

How to react to Bush’s new strategy? The pompousness of his rhetoric should not lead to our immediate dismissal. Mistaking his idealism for naivety or utopianism is also a less- than-constructive approach. Nevertheless rhetoric should be matched by at least remotely corresponding outcomes. The ideas are out in the open the Middle East needs implementation. Thus far road maps have been upside down and the Taliban seems to be re-emerging. Fast action is crucial before the extremists begin to represent the will of the people. Otherwise the US might have to face the paradox of exporting democracy. If matters do not ameliorate soon, no government with popular legitimacy will be unlikely to be Western-leaning. In the meanwhile, the world holds its breath hoping that the instincts of those in Washington stand the test of reality.