THE MISSING PRINCIPLE
With its ringing invocation of "the force of freedom," President George W. Bush's second inaugural address exemplified and updated the long-standing American belief that liberty is an intrinsic human good and that its promotion will enhance the nation's security and prosperity. Critics who scoffed at Bush's attempt to put ethics at the heart of U.S. foreign policy were misguided, because such considerations have been a crucial part of policy debates since the country's founding. What they should have criticized instead was Bush's narrow focus on one particular principle, political freedom, in isolation from other components of the American creed. After all, the Pledge of Allegiance promises not only liberty, but justice as well. Unfortunately, the elision of the notion of justice from the president's speech matches its elision from his foreign policy, with the result that in recent years, U.S. diplomacy -- public and private -- has been limping along on one leg and stumbling.
Much of the opposition the United States faces in the world today comes from either radical Islamists or from those who blame Washington for the unequal and destabilizing consequences of globalization. In their own ways, both groups fear that the freedom so loudly championed by the United States translates in practice into a license for the rich and the powerful to take advantage of the poor and the weak. They wage their anti-American campaigns in the name of justice.
Both movements are following in the footsteps of the United States' previous global foes, the communists, who based their legitimacy on appeals to social justice -- the good of the many taking precedence over the interests of the few -- and promised a world without exploitation, in which no one would be a loser. Ironically, it was precisely because the democratic, capitalist West was better able than its rival to fulfill such promises and motivate the masses that it won the Cold War. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the
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