May 15, 2005 [LINK]

Winners and Losers

In the midst of all the recent somber news of escalating suicide attacks in Iraq, it brought great cheer to see President Bush being received by huge applauding crowds in the former Soviet republics of Latvia and Georgia last week. Perhaps this outpouring of popular support was in response to Vladimir Putin' recent declaration that the dissolution of the USSR was among the last century's biggest catastrophes. Folks in Riga and Tblisi would beg to differ with that. Or it may be that people who have a very vivid recollection of tyranny are more likely to understand and approve of the Bush foreign policy, based on defending and advancing freedom, than are those who have been "comfortably numb" for many decades. In any case, Bush did well to take the opportunity of the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe to remind everyone what a high price the world paid when the U.S. opted for stability at the cost of freedom. By this, he tacitly acknowledged the U.S. failure to stand up for its own principles as the Iron Curtain descended upon Eastern Europe in 1945.

Democrat blogger Josh Marshall was outraged at Bush's comparison of the Yalta agreement with Munich or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the implication that FDR was a weak-kneed appeaser. The irony here is that Bush has been accused of utopian Wilsonianism in raising the importance of values in U.S. foreign policy far beyond our nation's capacity to carry out those values on a consistent basis. It used to be that those on the Left were considered utopians, but the post-9/11 world has seen a remarkable role reversal in that respect. Moreover, the same lesson about freedom vs. stability could be just as easily derived from El Salvador or Indonesia, and an astute, less defensive person on the Left would have made a rhetorical riposte highlighting that moral weakness often found among "hawks." Mr. Bush would do well to leaven his foreign policy pronouncements with more frequent cautions about our limited means and frank acknowledgements of our concrete interests at stake in the Middle East and other troubled regions.

Just as the President's plane was arriving in Europe, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, commented during a visit to a high school that President Bush is a "loser." See Washington Post. This was a direct violation of one of the basic norms of American politics -- that the president is not to be ridiculed or harshly castigated while travelling abroad. As any teacher knows, loser is probably the worst insult that a teenager in today's hypercompetitive world could ever hurl at another, so given where he was at the time, the epithet uttered by the Nevada senator is not to be dismissed lightly. At first Reid and his staff appeared to apologize, but later he recanted, boasting that he's a "tell it like it is" kind of guy. Utterly tactless, utterly disgraceful. Is that the kind of bipartisan comity that those opposing the "nuclear option" are seeking to preserve?