An Age of Liberty?
On November 6, 2003 President George W. Bush, speaking at the 20th Anniversary Gala for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), outlined a new approach to US foreign policy, centered around the creation of a new "age of liberty." From the Fourteen Points, to the Four Freedoms, and the 1984 Westminster Address, Bush argued that America has held a strong and historic commitment to encouraging freedom across the globe. The concept of promoting freedom first presented in the NED speech would expand into the Bush Doctrine, expanding democracy as a means of promoting trade, liberty, and security. As a foreign policy, the Bush Doctrine was both noble and pragmatic; unfortunately, devotion to this policy ended before it could be most effective.
The Bush Doctrine sought justice and great benefits. In Bush's National Security Strategy, the administration acknowledged the threat nondemocratic regimes pose to the United States. The poverty, corruption, and weak governance of these states provide greater opportunities for terrorist and criminal organization to develop, as well as the ability for uncooperative regimes to interfere with international trade. All of this on top of the oppression and tyranny common in undemocratic states. Furthermore, democratic allies have proven to be far more beneficial than autocratic allies. Free trade and markets among democratic states tend to produce the most wealth and foster peace.In accordance with democratic peace theory, no democratic states have ever gone to war against another. The Bush administration acknowledged this need for democracy, deciding to pursue it by promising to actively work towards promoting democracy and supporting any nation that sought pro-democratic reform.
In 2001, Freedom House, a non-partisan organization that analyzes freedom among states, found that in the Middle East, Israel was the only free nation, with Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey as the only partially free nations. By the end of Bush's presidential term, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Morocco joined the list of partially free states. Though not the only factor, the American commitment to spreading democracy and freedom within the Middle East was leading to substantial improvements in the quality of life for these nations' citizens, with progress beginning in nations such as Egypt. By the end of the Arab Spring in 2011, the number of partially free nations was reduced to three — with the previous year and a half marking the first net decline in democratic freedoms within the region since Bush's stand for democracy.
As Middle East nations began to rise against their states during the Arab Spring, citizens voiced a clear desire and yearning for an increase in freedom and an adoption of democracy. However, those pleas for help were not adequately met. Instead of funds growing over time as intended, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which was created during the Bush presidency has seen its funding significantly diminished. A no-fly zone was successfully enacted over the skies of Libya, with a coalition of forces launching airstrikes against Qaddafi's regime, but these were delayed well after assistance became necessary for pro-democratic opposition forces. Monetary, military, and food aid are now starting to be sent to opposition forces in Syria, but a civil war has been raging for years, with entire cities and populations decimated. The Arab Spring has provided the perfect opportunity to promote an Age of Liberty through effectively supporting freedom and democracy in new governments such as Tunisia and Libya, and ensuring that oppressive and tyrannical regimes like Syria are brought to an end.
Opponents of the Bush Doctrine will often argue that pro-democratic interventionadversely affects both Americans and for those intervened upon. American isolationists and non-interventionists hold a viewpoint that can be perceived as overly self-interested and misguided. First, America has a moral obligation as a world power to help others and reaffirm its pivotal role in this pursuit, especially in reference to the many tyrannical governments the US installed and backed in the Middle East during the Cold War. Furthermore, the creation of pro-democratic governments has historically led to increases in free trade, the creation of new markets, and an increase in security — all of which benefit Americans and the world in the long-run. While US intervention has not always worked perfectly, a messy transition to democracy is far preferable to a dictator who rules via an iron fist and repression of his people through the use of chemical massacres, like the Assad regime.
A foreign policy that promotes freedom and democracy around the world is realistic, noble, and pragmatic. While transitions to democracy are never as smooth or as quick as could be desired, the transition is necessary. The current post-Arab Spring environment is one in which the United States should reaffirm the commitments made during Bush's administration in order to secure an Age of Liberty.