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Freedom Cannot Be Denied


On winning the War and why free nations must, he is still exceptionally right.


resident Bush's keynote address at the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague is excerpted below.

In dark and repressive corners of the world, whole generations grew up with no voice in their government and no hope in their future. This life of oppression bred deep resentment. And for many, resentment boiled over into radicalism and extremism and violence. The world saw the result on September the 11th, 2001, when terrorists based in Afghanistan sent 19 suicidal men to murder nearly 3,000 innocent people in the United States.

For some, this attack called for a narrow response. In truth, 9/11 was evidence of a much broader danger — an international movement of violent Islamic extremists that threatens free people everywhere. The extremists' ambition is to build a totalitarian empire that spans all current and former Muslim lands, including parts of Europe. Their strategy to achieve that goal is to frighten the world into surrender through a ruthless campaign of terrorist murder.

To confront this enemy, America and our allies have taken the offensive with the full range of our military, intelligence, and law enforcement capabilities. Yet this battle is more than a military conflict. Like the Cold War, it's an ideological struggle between two fundamentally different visions of humanity. On one side are the extremists, who promise paradise, but deliver a life of public beatings and repression of women and suicide bombings. On the other side are huge numbers of moderate men and women — including millions in the Muslim world — who believe that every human life has dignity and value that no power on Earth can take away.

The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs — it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul. Freedom is the best way to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation. Freedom is the only ordering of a society that leads to justice. And human freedom is the only way to achieve human rights.

Expanding freedom is more than a moral imperative — it is the only realistic way to protect our people in the long run. Years ago, Andrei Sakharov warned that a country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respond to the rights of its neighbors. History proves him right. Governments accountable to their people do not attack each other. Democracies address problems through the political process, instead of blaming outside scapegoats. Young people who can disagree openly with their leaders are less likely to adopt violent ideologies. And nations that commit to freedom for their people will not support extremists — they will join in defeating them.

For all these reasons, the United States is committed to the advance of freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism. And we have a historic objective in view. In my second inaugural address, I pledged America to the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. Some have said that qualifies me as a "dissident president." If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, I wear that title with pride.

America pursues our freedom agenda in many ways — some vocal and visible, others quiet and hidden from view. Ending tyranny requires support for the forces of conscience that undermine repressive societies from within. The Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik compared a tyrannical state to a soldier who constantly points a gun at his enemy — until his arms finally tire and the prisoner escapes. The role of the free world is to put pressure on the arms of the world's tyrants — and strengthen the prisoners who are trying to speed their collapse....

There are many dissidents who couldn't join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest. I look forward to the day when a conference like this one include Alexander Kozulin of Belarus, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Oscar Elias Biscet of Cuba, Father Nguyen Van Ly of Vietnam, Ayman Nour of Egypt....

We appreciate that free societies take shape at different speeds in different places. One virtue of democracy is that it reflects local history and traditions. Yet there are fundamental elements that all democracies share — freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly; rule of law enforced by independent courts; private property rights; and political parties that compete in free and fair elections. These rights and institutions are the foundation of human dignity, and as countries find their own path to freedom, they must find a loyal partner in the United States of America.

Extending the reach of freedom is a mission that unites democracies around the world. Some of the greatest contributions are coming from nations with the freshest memories of tyranny. I appreciate the Czech Republic's support for human rights projects in Belarus and Burma and Cuba. I thank Germany, and Poland, and the Czech Republic, and Hungary, and Slovenia, and Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia for contributing to the new United Nations Democracy Fund. I'm grateful for the commitment many new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe are making to Afghanistan and Iraq. I appreciate that these countries are willing to do the hard work necessary to enable people who want to be free to live in a free society.

In all these ways, the freedom agenda is making a difference. The work has been difficult, and that is not going to change. There will be triumphs and failures, progress and setbacks. Ending tyranny cannot be achieved overnight. And of course, this objective has its critics.

Some say that ending tyranny means "imposing our values" on people who do not share them, or that people live in parts of the world where freedom cannot take hold. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given a choice, they choose freedom.... At a polling station in Baghdad, I was struck by the words of an Iraqi — he had one leg — and he told a reporter, "I would have crawled here if I had to." Was democracy — I ask the critics, was democracy imposed on that man? Was freedom a value he did not share? The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the extremists and the radicals and the tyrants....

History shows that ultimately, freedom conquers fear. And given a chance, freedom will conquer fear in every nation on Earth.

Another objective — objection is that ending tyranny will unleash chaos. Critics point to the violence in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Lebanon as evidence that freedom leaves people less safe. But look who's causing the violence. It's the terrorists, it's the extremists. It is no coincidence that they are targeting young democracies in the Middle East. They know that the success of free societies there is a mortal threat to their ambitions — and to their very survival. The fact that our enemies are fighting back is not a reason to doubt democracy. It is evidence that they recognize democracy's power. It is evidence that we are at war. And it is evidence that free nations must do what it takes to prevail.

Still, some argue that a safer goal would be stability, especially in the Middle East. The problem is that pursuing stability at the expense of liberty does not lead to peace — it leads to September the 11th, 2001. The policy of tolerating tyranny is a moral and strategic failure. It is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Others fear that democracy will bring dangerous forces to power, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories. Elections will not always turn out the way we hope. Yet democracy consists of more than a single trip to the ballot box. Democracy requires meaningful opposition parties, a vibrant civil society, a government that enforces the law and responds to the needs of its people. Elections can accelerate the creation of such institutions. In a democracy, people will not vote for a life of perpetual violence. To stay in power, elected officials must listen to their people and pursue their desires for peace — or, in democracies, the voters will replace them through free elections.

Finally, there's the contention that ending tyranny is unrealistic. Well, some argue that extending democracy around the world is simply too difficult to achieve. That's nothing new. We've heard that criticism before throughout history. At every stage of the Cold War, there were those who argued that the Berlin Wall was permanent, and that people behind the Iron Curtain would never overcome their oppressors. History has sent a different message.

The lesson is that freedom will always have its skeptics. But that's not the whole story. There are also people like you, and the loved ones you represent — men and women with courage to risk everything for your ideals. In his first address as President, Vaclav Havel proclaimed, "People, your government has returned to you!" He was echoing the first speech of Tomas Masaryk — who was, in turn, quoting the 17th century Czech teacher Comenius. His message was that freedom is timeless. It does not belong to one government or one generation. Freedom is the dream and the right of every person in every nation in every age.

The United States of America believes deeply in that message. It was the inspiration for our founding, when we declared that "all men are created equal." It was the conviction that led us to help liberate this continent, and stand with the captive nations through their long struggle. It is the truth that guides our nation to oppose radicals and extremists and terror and tyranny in the world today.

I am disturbed that we are not prepared to fully do what we must if we wish to totally and finally defeat the worst of Freedom's enemies, all led by Iran, which threaten our and future generations. As David Warren puts it, in contesting President Bush's statement that "freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed, but freedom cannot be denied,"

In my view, and my experience, freedom can be resisted, delayed and denied, and moreover, it can be in decline, as it is in the West, where the nanny state grows insidiously and constantly — regardless of who is elected to government — with the expanding power of the self-appointed elites who control our legal systems, and regulatory regimes.

It is nice to say rhetorically that freedom will prevail, but we must realize that such statements apply to heaven and not to earth. For down here, civic freedom is invariably obtained at the cost of human blood and treasure. It is not obtained by negotiating with dictators, except from a position of invincible force, and then only when one is fully prepared to use it. The very argument used against the wisdom of invading Iraq — that it costs blood and treasure — is itself the signal of surrender.

Aristotle once wrote that the magnificent man "does not count the cost." He understood also the virtue of prudence, the need for calculation and tact. But prudence itself is not finally calculated in blood or treasure. In the words with which my own country, Canada, was once mobilized against the Hitler menace: "No price too high!"

There is no price too high for human liberty, and those who dispute this are — and deserve to be — slaves.

While the Democracy and Security Conference's Prague Document, whose signers "call upon governments and peoples throughout the free world to help those trying to build free societies elsewhere," does not expressly dispute that "no price (is) too high for human liberty," it implicitly exhorts placing self-imposed limits on this price whenever those governments and peoples are doing the following:

  1. To demand the immediate release of all non violent political prisoners in their respective countries.
  2. Instructing diplomatic emissaries to non-democratic countries to actively and openly seek out meetings with political prisoners and dissidents committed to building free societies through non-violence.
  3. Raising public awareness, through institutions in their own countries and through international bodies, of human rights abuses under non-democratic regimes.
  4. Raising the question of human rights in all meetings with officials of non-democratic regimes.
  5. Seeking national and international initiatives, in the spirit of the Helsinki Accords, that link bilateral and international relations to the question of human rights.
  6. Exerting pressure, through peaceful diplomatic, political and economic means, on governments and groups abusing human rights to discontinue their practices.
  7. Providing incentives, through diplomatic, political and economic means, to governments and groups willing to improve the human rights record in their countries and to embark on the road to democracy.
  8. Isolating and ostracizing governments and groups that suppress their peaceful domestic opponents by force, violence or intimidation.
  9. Isolating and ostracizing governments and groups that threaten other countries and peoples with genocide or annihilation.
  10. Promoting best human rights and governance practices that have been found effective and beneficial in other countries, in particular in new and recent democracies.

I would not, nor I doubt would any of the people on the receiving end of pending genocide or annihilation, want us to be "isolating and ostracizing" governments threatening those horrors. They and I would want such governments to be immediately and forever no more. Yes, we could exert peaceful pressure on them and provide them with diplomatic, political, and economic incentives all day long, every day, from now till Doomsday. But we should never expect any or all of that will effectually stop them in the end. We could also promote best practices, seek initiatives, raise public awareness, instruct diplomats, and demand releases before or after as well. But we should never mistake this either for starting something that will end with our accomplishing anything other than giving us a frail illusion of action which, at least for a while, we hope, lets us feel good about ourselves.

It would be nice if our being so nice and accommodating to inhuman machines that are coldly calculating the murderous consumption of lives and freedoms which fuels and maintains them actually did transform them into something equally and reciprocatingly nice and accommodating. Except this has never worked. Petting a lethal machine may make it hum a little better, but that will not stop it. To permanently remove the danger it constantly poses, we must unplug it entirely, dismantle it completely, take a sledge hammer to every one of its parts, and unceremoniously toss the whole mass of twisted metal on the growing scrap heap of wasted history — preferably before any more nearby hands get caught in that machine and pulled, along with the rest of their owners, inside its deadly entrails.

Speaking of Iran, Anne Bayefsky says,

Mr. President, the truth is that one of the most evil regimes in the world as we know it is on the verge of acquiring the most powerful weapon in the world as we know it. And the future is in your hands. The clear message from Prague was that you have friends around the world, even if not in your administration. You have the power to protect our nation and freedom for all people everywhere. You lead your nation now. And without exercising that leadership, with no further pretense that the U.N. has the authority to deny the necessities of America's national defense, the triumph of hate over hope will be laid at your door.

All that is true. He must, despite the predictable Democrappeaserat Party leadership's extreme caterwauling when he does, totally and finally defeat the expansionist machine of hate and terror now ruling and ruining Iran. In the end all people everywhere will know who did and didn't have foremost in mind their freedoms, and who is and isn't on their side and on the right side of history.

President Bush's address has amply laid out why he must, for all our sakes, do and be that.

What had brought President Bush to make this pilgrimage to Prague, en route to the G-8 summit? The answer echoed through the noble vision outlined in his speech — a speech that several seasoned observers of presidential oratory who attended the conference judged to be among the best that Mr. Bush has ever given.

I agree with Daniel Johnson's assessment of the speech.

My prayer is that the postscript will say history has judged the actions of America in defense of human freedom at this time and place to be among the best that she has ever taken.

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