Events unfolding in the Middle East are proving that Henry Hyde was right and George Bush was wrong on the wisdom of a foreign policy focused on promoting democracy.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared in Hyde’s House International Relations Committee on Feb. 16, 2006, she presented written testimony touting Bush’s messianic policy.
“In his second inaugural address, President Bush laid out the vision that leads America into the world: ‘It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,'” said Rice.
She pointed to Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence that Bush’s policy had sewn the seeds that would make freedom blossom across the Middle East.
“In December, over 12 million Iraqi people voted in free elections for a democratic government based on a constitution that Iraqis themselves wrote and adopted,” said Rice.
“Today, Afghanistan has a democratic constitution; an emerging free economy; and a growing, multi-ethnic army that is the pride of the Afghan people,” she said.
“The people of Iraq and Afghanistan,” she concluded, “are helping to lead the transformation of the Broader Middle East from despotism to democracy.”
Hyde, who chaired the committee, calmly poured cold water on this.
“It is a truism that power breeds arrogance,” he said. “A far greater danger, however, stems from the self-delusion that is the more certain companion.”
“To illustrate my point,” Hyde said, “let me focus on a school of thought that has gained increasing prominence in our national debate — namely, the assertion that our interests are best advanced by assigning a central place in the foreign policy of our nation to the worldwide promotion of democracy. I call this the Golden Theory.”
Hyde, who had commanded a landing craft when U.S. forces re-entered the Philippines in World War II, and who had been a key member of both the intelligence and international relations committees at the height of the Cold War, spoke with deep experience on national security issues. His rebuttal of the Golden Theory was devastating.
It was wrong, Hyde said, to liken efforts to implant democracy today in problematic regions of the globe with what happened in Europe and parts of East Asia after World War II.
Even in Europe, he said, the U.S. needed to invest “enormous resources toward enforcing order, removing barriers, reviving economies and a host of other unprecedented innovations.
“The resulting transformation is usually ascribed to the workings of democracy,” he said, “but it is due far more to the impact of the long-term U.S. presence.”
In East Asia, too, Hyde said, “stable democratic” governments were rare where the U.S. did not have an extended presence.
Hyde argued that those who thought democracy could be grafted onto any nation on earth did not understand how deep the roots of representative government must run in a culture.
“But democracy is more than a single election, or even a succession of them,” he said. “It is a way of life for a nation, embracing its life and institutions, and all of their complexity, and embraced in turn by its people and their actions, thoughts and beliefs.
“Viewed in its more compete historical context,” Hyde said, “implanting democracy in large areas would require that we possess an unbounded power and undertake an open-ended commitment of time and resources, which we cannot and will not do.”
In his second inaugural address, Bush had argued that his policy of promoting democracy was rooted in America’s religious understanding of the nature of man.
“America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one,” Bush said. “From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights and dignity and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of heaven and earth.”
This principle — articulated in our Declaration of Independence and based on an understanding of God and man that traces back to both classical philosophy and the Bible — is undoubtedly true. But the dominant cultural forces in the very lands Bush tried to fashion into democracies deny it.
Four years after Hyde rebutted the Golden Theory, the last Christian church was razed in Condoleezza Rice’s Afghan democracy. The State Department last month published a report on religious freedom there that said “two men were in detention for conversion to Christianity.”
In Iraq, according to State, the Christian population has been cut at least in half since 2003 — and is now no more than 600,000. Christians are fleeing a country where the government has failed to protect them from sectarian acts of persecution and murder.
The State Department also reports that in Iraq’s democracy it is a crime “subject to punishment by death” to express “moral support” for “Zionist organizations.”
Last month, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Ra’i of Lebanon warned that Syria might be headed for sectarian war. “This, then, is a genocide and not democracy and reform,” he said.
In Cairo two weeks ago, the Egyptian military killed about two dozen unarmed Coptic Christians participating in a demonstration to protest the destruction of a Christian church.
“We must also be cognizant of the fact that a broad and energetic promotion of democracy may produce not peace and stability, but revolution,” Hyde said back in 2006.
“History teaches that revolutions are very dangerous things, more often destructive than benign and uncontrollable by their very nature,” he said. “Upending established order based on theory is far more likely to produce chaos than shining uplands.”