We must never take for
granted the march of freedom. As Heritage President Ed Feulner
showed in his 1998 book of that title, the line is never straight,
and the walk is never easy. In fact, it can be very costly and
fraught with setbacks and disappointments.
If we need to be
reminded of this fact, we need only to recall our own history.
Think back, for example, to late 1776-November 18 in fact. It was
the darkest hour in the Revolutionary War. Washington had just
surrendered Fort Washington on the Hudson River, and thousands of
his men were taken prisoner. A few days before, his army had been
routed at Kip's Bay in Manhattan. There, Washington reportedly lost
control as he watched soldiers run away, crying out as he
brandished a pistol at them, "Are these the men with which I am to
defend America?" Before that, he had been outmaneuvered and
outsmarted by the British at the Battle of Brooklyn, where his army
had been surprised in a night attack.
These were humiliating
defeats. Washington had made mistakes. On November 18, 1776, New
York was gone. It looked as if all was lost as Washington tried to
escape across the frozen fields of New Jersey. Lord Rawdon, a
British officer, concluded: "The fact is their army is broke all to
pieces, and the spirit of their leaders and their abettors is all
broken…. I think one may venture to pronounce that it is
well nigh over with them."
These were the dismal
events that inspired Thomas Paine to pen his famous words: "These
are times that try men's souls." We know the end of that story: The
Americans go on to win that war. But Paine and the others didn't
know that in November 1776. They carried on despite the fact that
almost everybody thought the war was lost.
Now, I relate this
story to remind us that the march of freedom is no less straight
today than it was in the 18th century. Happily for us, our ordeal
is not nearly as onerous as Washington's. We can learn from his
patience, his determination, and his sheer doggedness not to
surrender even though others said the fight was not worth the
effort. We can be thankful that much progress has been made in
spreading liberty in the world in the last 15 years.
But we cannot rest. We
cannot expect the wave of freedom we have witnessed to continue
coursing across the continents. We cannot even take comfort. The
spread of freedom today is being met with resistance and
encountering backlash. Whether America continues the spread of
freedom will depend to a great extent on the clarity and
steadfastness of American leadership in the world and at
The Catalyst for Freedom
It has been the
leadership of America-and of good friends like Lady Margaret
Thatcher-that has been the cause of and the catalyst for the march
of freedom. Consider how far we've come just over Heritage's
In 1975, Freedom
House-a group that measures how politically free countries are
around the world-found only 40 free nations in the world. Today, it
cites 89, over twice the number in 30 years.
Moreover, the number of
unfree countries has dropped by one-third: from 65 to
What is more, the
number of countries whose peoples have claimed freedom has nearly
doubled over Heritage's lifespan-from 24 percent to 46
This surge for freedom
is not just found in surveys of those who now hold elections.
It is also reflected in our Index of
Economic Freedom. In fact, for the first time since we've
been measuring economic freedom, the average score for all the
countries combined has climbed from the "mostly unfree"
category to "mostly free." That's promising. In the past year
alone, 99 countries-many of them former communist countries-have
improved their scores.
This means that, slowly
but surely, more countries today are allowing their people to
keep more of what they earn, to build more businesses with less
government interference, and to trade more freely. Some people call
this globalization. I call it the march of economic
It is no less true that
millions of people have been liberated from tyranny in recent
millions of people defied the threats from Taliban supporters and
turned out en masse to elect a president in 2004 and their
representatives to the new parliament last September.
In Iraq, people defied
insurgents' fear-mongering and voted to adopt a permanent
constitution last October. And in December, over 75 percent of
people eligible voted for their National Assembly.
One year ago this
month, Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon after massive
demonstrations in the Cedar Revolution that followed tainted
elections and the killing of a popular leader.
The people spoke in
Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004, Georgia's Rose Revolution
in 2003, and the Bulldozer Revolution in Serbia that brought
Milosevic down in 2000.
In Indonesia, we saw
the largest turnout in history-117 million people-for
elections in 2004. We welcome every step its diverse peoples
take to build a democratic system.
Even elections in Egypt
last year, marred by problems, have opened the door for further
President Bush has made
the march of freedom the principal agenda of his Administration. In
his new National Security Strategy, it is front and center.
That's a significant change from four years ago, when it was a
subset of the war on terrorism.
For the President, it
is no feel-good strategy. It is based upon a hard-nosed
understanding of history. There can be no real security in America
without the advance of liberty in the world. There can be no real
security anywhere if we allow the forces of tyranny to fester
and to foment violence.
Now, backlashes to the
freedom agenda should come as no surprise to anyone. There always
will be a backlash when you try to change the status quo. But even
though that is so-and even though there is more freedom today than
there was 30 years ago-I would not belittle the challenges we face
today to spreading freedom around the world.
We are, in fact, at a
crossroads. How the United States handles the President's freedom
agenda in the next few years will be critical for our security in
the near and long term.
We all know the
setbacks. Hamas has won elections. A radical Islamist won
rigged elections in Iran. The radical Muslim Brotherhood picks up
seats in elections in Egypt. I would argue that these were not real
democratic elections, because they are not occurring under real
democratic conditions. But the fact remains there are large
segments of Islamic societies that, if given the chance, would use
the ballot box to "vote once," if you will, and create oppressive
regimes that would deny democracy and freedom in the
The backlash is not
confined to the Middle East, either. A venomous demagogue, Hugo
Chávez, was elected in Venezuela. Amazingly, he recently
received UNESCO's highest honors for freedom promotion-delivered by
Fidel Castro himself! And one of Chávez's friends was
elected last December in Bolivia on a similar platform of
populist authoritarianism. Many people believe Chávez
is trying to sway results as well in upcoming elections in
Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador.
Putin is also backsliding on democracy. He has taken deliberate
steps to limit the work of pro-democracy organizations, to restrain
freedom of the press, to use Russia's oil and gas supplies as
leverage on its neighbors, and to consolidate power in the central
China is more
threatening toward Taiwan and attempting to constrain democracy in
Hong Kong. You can't find any better symbol of Beijing's
anti-freedom agenda than the fact that it has gotten Yahoo and
Google to agree to block Internet searches in China on the words
"freedom" and "democracy."
And in France, young
people are demonstrating in the streets not for more freedom, but
for more social protection from the state. They want to ensure that
they cannot be fired from a job no matter how poorly they
So let's not fool
ourselves: Most people in the long run may yearn to be free, but an
equally powerful desire for short-term social security can
make them afraid and want to escape the uncertainties of freedom.
We see this every day in our own country when liberals block Social
Security reform or try to nationalize health care-which they know
will consume more and more of the funding we will need to protect
Still, with all this
backsliding, we should not give up on the cause. We are in fact
winning the long war for freedom. Yet we should have a greater
appreciation of freedom's complexities and its
Ladies and gentlemen,
we need to be clearheaded. We need to make distinctions. We
need to better understand this most American of all causes.
Otherwise, we will underestimate its costs, confuse its goals and
means, and perhaps even lose patience with it all
Next Steps on the March
As Ronald Reagan said,
"freedom is never more than one generation from extinction."
Indeed, it is true that, although the longing for liberty may be
universal, it is not guaranteed. Its triumph in history is not
inevitable. We conservatives are not historical determinists.
However, we are optimists. We are confident that we can
devise a workable course of action to ensure that the freedom that
Lady Thatcher and President Reagan cherished survives not only for
the next generation of Americans, but for other peoples as
So some principles are
in order-some guidelines on how to think about spreading
freedom around the world.
First, we must be clear about
what we mean by the freedom agenda. This is a generational
commitment, the next step of the Reagan revolution writ large
at home and abroad. It is, in fact, a commitment that
Americans decades ago made when they liberated Europe from the
Nazis and the Pacific from the Japanese imperialists. We understood
then, as we must now, that we will ourselves be more free in the
long run if other countries choose self-government that respects
the rule of law, human and civil rights, religious freedom and
We must distinguish
between elections and democracy, and between populism and freedom.
Frankly, there may be times when supporting overseas elections
may not be advisable. And not every populist movement desires
liberty. Even despots and terrorists can get elected in some
circumstances. We have only to look at Belarus or the
It is true that free
and fair elections are important agents for change, but they are
not everything. They must be supported by democratic institutions
and the constitution of liberty. They must be buttressed by
the rule of law, an independent judiciary and media, civil society,
and pluralistic and responsible political parties. There must
be protections for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom
of worship, and freedom to own property.
distinguish between our near- and long-term goals. We cannot
accomplish everything overnight. We cannot do everything with
the U.S. military. And we cannot do it alone. We will need allies,
and in some cases we will need to work with regional and
Third, we must face the
challenges in the Middle East. That means making Iraq work! We
intervened in Iraq to free ourselves of a future security threat.
That was achieved with the removal of Saddam Hussein. But now we
must succeed in helping the Iraqis establish a stable government,
hopefully as the foundation for the evolution of freedom and
Likewise, we must
continue to promote progress in Afghanistan, especially as tests of
its new constitution-like the recent one on religious freedom-
unfold. And we must prevent Iran from going nuclear. Of all the
countries least responsible with nuclear weapons, it is
Iran-the country that most sponsors terrorism.
we need to
drastically improve public diplomacy. We can't leave the task of
explaining our foreign policy to diplomats. We must overhaul our
entire public diplomacy machinery to reach the peoples of the world
with more facts, explanations, and justifications about why we do
what we do. We should not confuse this effort with trying to
convince people to like us as Americans or even to explain
better who we are as a people. No, our public diplomacy should
be focused on explaining why we take the positions we do and how
they benefit not only us, but the entire world.
Fifth, we must support free
trade and free markets by actively advocating policies that
enable individuals to grab hold of opportunity and seek their
prosperity. We need to do this in the Doha Round of trade
negotiations, through free trade agreements, and by encouraging a
Global Free Trade Association.
we must get serious about Russia and China. They have joined forces
to undermine our freedom agenda around the world, not only in
cooperating on controlling energy supplies, but also in slowing our
efforts to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear
These are major efforts
that cut across the activities of the Davis Institute and the
Thatcher Center. They are our agenda-The Heritage Foundation's
freedom agenda. And therein lies a strategy not only to provide
more prosperity for the American people, but also to protect the
homeland and even civilization as a whole from terrorism and
What Ed Feulner wrote
in the Introduction to
The March of Freedom in 1998 still holds true today: We
must continue the good fight until "freedom no longer needs
Ladies and gentlemen,
that time is not likely to come in our lifetime, or even in that of
our children. We must expect setbacks and even hard times. Our
ancestors faced far more difficulties than we do today, and they
surmounted them. The only way we can fail is if we lose confidence
This is not about
weak-minded idealism or dreamy utopianism. Nor is it about
arrogance or a "refusal to face reality," as some of the
President's defeatist critics allege. No, it's about what history
has shown can work and what we as a people can do when we put our
minds to it. We need to know our limitations, to be sure; and we
should expect excellence from our leaders, and if they make
mistakes, we should have the courage to tell them
But we should not lose
faith in ourselves. Our history has shown that we are defeated only
when we allow ourselves to be discouraged, as we did during the
Vietnam War, or if we refuse to pick ourselves up and fight
back when we are whipped-as George Washington refused to do after
he was run out of New York City. You'll recall that only a few
months later he made quite a comeback, surprising the Hessians at
Trenton and beating the British at Princeton. That turned the tide
of the Revolutionary War, and the rest is, as they say,
One of Washington's
great strengths as a leader was seeing the world as it was, and not
as he wished it to be. That was the secret to his resolve. We need
to be equally clearheaded about what faces us in the world
today-and that is no less true in Iraq.
I have no idea whether
the Iraqis will be able to form a stable government in the next few
weeks. I can't honestly tell you if real democracy will come to
that country even in the next decade. But I can tell you this: If
we were to pull out tomorrow, there is no chance at all of either
democracy or security in the Middle East. The alternative is even
more war and even more terrorism that will surely come to our
And that is, as
Washington might say, the world as it is, not as we wish it to
-Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D., is Vice
President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and Director
of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. These
remarks were delivered at the annual meeting of the Heritage Board
of Trustees in Miami, Florida.