Let no one accuse President Bush of lacking in vision -- or in ability to stir controversy. Ever since his soaring inaugural speech last week, intense debate has broken here and aboard about the president's words and intentions. The speech was a paean to freedom. It was soaring. It was like a sermon. It was an appeal to the hearts and idealism of Americans. Read it slowly, and you will want to underline almost every sentence.
But was it policy? The gap between vision and policy is one that pundits, commentators, the White House itself, even president Bush's father, have been trying to fill over the last week. If Mr. Bush has shifted the mission from his first term of protecting the American homeland and the global war on terror to the cause of spreading freedom around the world and fighting tyranny wherever it is found, he has taken a gigantic leap. Some might say a leap of faith.
Some of the words and phrases of the 43rd president's second inaugural address already have the ring of familiarity. "There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom."
"The survival in liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty of other lands. The best hope for peace is our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."
One of many comparisons that come to mind is President Reagan's speech to the British Parliament at Westminster in 1982 in which he predicated famously stated that "the march of freedom and democracy . . .will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."
He also reminded his British audience that, "We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings." Mr. Reagan lived to see his prediction come true, won the Cold War and will for that be remembered as one of the greatest America's presidents.
Mr. Reagan, however, was able to succeed because his goal, for all its vastness, had clear definition and addressed a specific and identifiable threat. His strategy was to build a strong defense, fight wars by proxy through indigenous anti-Communist movements, and support the spread of democracy through the newly founded National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Information Agency.
After Mr. Bush's inaugural speech, the initial impression was the vastness of its ambition. In The Wall Street Journal former Reagan Speech writer Peggy Noonan commented, "The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not." Miss Noonan is right.
Idealism must have a foundation in reality if it is to have meaning. It also needs to be matched properly with the priorities of national interest and security. This point has previously been made eloquently by columnist Charles Krauthammer who last year proposed the concept of "democratic realism" that intervenes not everywhere that freedom threatened, but only where it counts. . .That is how we won the Cold War."
What we clearly needs from Mr. Bush is a more specific sense of the Bush Doctrine. We know that so far it involves the fight against terrorism in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the commitment to democratic elections. We also know that it has a focus on democratizing the Middle East, a mammoth challenge in itself, and on meeting the challenge of radical Islam.
How the doctrine will affect Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Russia and the list of less than democratic allies of the United States is a very open question. How will it be sold to our allies, some of whom are already deeply skeptical of American intentions, but will be indispensable for this ambitious endeavor?
This column last week featured for Natan Sharansky's compelling book "The Case for Democracy," which clearly has had a profound influence on Mr. Bush's speech. There is no doubt that Mr. Bush believes in this vision. As president of the United States, though, he has to make sure that his heart doesn't lead him where his head cannot follow.
Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
First appeared in The Washington Times