This is the second in a series of commissioned essays on foreign policy concerns for the next president. A Republican view is scheduled for the July/August issue.
FALL FROM GRACE
Speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy last fall, President George W. Bush delivered an important statement of American purpose. He rightly argued that the United States has an interest in political freedom in Muslim countries, because the absence of freedom denies people peaceful avenues for expressing dissent and thus drives them toward shadowy, violent alternatives. He fairly criticized past administrations for having been too tolerant of authoritarian Arab regimes. And he committed the United States to the difficult but vital task of supporting more open and democratic societies in the Middle East.
But with few exceptions, the democratic activists, politicians, journalists, and intellectuals in the Muslim world—our natural partners in this effort—met President Bush's speech with skepticism, even disdain. Across the Middle East, his words did little to improve popular perceptions of the United States and its intentions.
The problem is not that Arabs reject the president's message. According to recent surveys of the region by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, significant majorities of people from Morocco to Jordan to Pakistan are democrats: they say they want to live in societies where leaders are freely elected, where free speech is protected, and where the rule of law is respected. Yet paradoxically, equally large majorities in the very same countries now insist that they do not "like American ideas about democracy."
Similar contradictions abound in other parts of the world. Washington is committed to defending South Korea if war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, yet growing numbers of young South Koreans see the United States as a greater threat to security than North Korea. We are waging a war on terrorism that is as vital to Europe's security as to our own, yet increasing numbers of Europeans associate it with
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