January 31, 2006
Much like his rhetorically gifted predecessor, George W. Bush is learning that basing U.S. foreign policy on high, noble ideas is a risky proposition. As compromises and accommodations to reality are made, charges of hypocrisy are almost inevitable. Last week's elections in Palestine indeed call into question the Neocons' vision that democratization in the Middle East would bear quick fruit in terms of peace and stability. Well, maybe not right away. There is a desperate need for Condoleeza Rice to speak up at Cabinet meetings and make a stronger pitch for paying greater heed to the realist approach to international relations. As the President prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, George Will predicts in today's Washington Post that Bush will conveniently gloss over the setback represented by the Hamas victory. He cites Edmund Burke's warning about the moral ambiguity of liberty, which allows people to choose good or evil, and wryly notes that Bush's previous disavowal of imposing "our" form of democracy on other countries has provided an opportunity for malign illiberal forms of democracy to arise. How will Bush handle the disconnect between past rhetoric and present reality in places like Palestine and Haiti? Will wishful thinking descend into cynicism, as Will says? The erudite pundit's pent-up exasperation with the waywardness of the Bush administration exploded in the Harriet Miers episode, but he has not yet to stooped to the kind of insult he once leveled at Bush the Elder, whose voice, Will once said, had the "tinny arf of a lap dog."
As for tonight's big speech, I predict that Bush will give "equal time" to sober reflection and high inspiration, in line with the recent shift in White House communications strategy. Bush is often criticized for living in a "bubble," blissfully unaware of criticism or public sentiment, but that does not apply to his advisers. Bush has established a clear pattern of foiling the low expectations of pundits and rousing the audience with clear, resonant speeches just in the nick of time. He may pull it off once again, but that high-wire act can't go on forever.
Almost every modern U.S. administration creates some new official or quasi-official insititution to put its own stamp on international "do-goodism," from the Peace Corps to the National Endowment for Democracy. Under the Bush administration, the new Millennium Challenge Corporation has taken a leading role in formulating U.S. overseas development policy. Today's Washington Post provides some background on the MCC and its new leader, John Danilovich. Two of the biggest recipients of MCC assistance packages are Nicaragua and Honduras, which suffered greatly during the civil wars of the 1980s. In general, I support the idea that U.S. foreign aid should be conditioned on the worthiness of recipients, but there is always a risk of political favoritism whenever such discretion is emphasized. It also illustrates, once again, the inherent dilemma of involvement in other countries' affairs: We risk either being seen as meddlesome, or else turning a blind eye to bad behavior.
The Senate approved the nomination of Samuel Alito today by a vote of 58 to 42. I heard Sen. Chuck Schumer on the radio today bitterly ruing the accession of the conservative judge, voicing the resentment of Democrats who think they are still the majority party. He said that the response to Bush's State of the Union address tonight will be the sound of "one hand clapping." That's free publicity for Donald Sensing!