The debate over the invasion of Iraq underwent a seismic shift during Spring Break. In a speech the history books will pinpoint as a defining moment of his presidency, George W. Bush went before a banquet of the American Enterprise Institute to make the moral case for war. Declaring that “the first to benefit from a free Iraq would be the Iraqi people, themselves,” Bush described a utopian vision of a liberated Iraq, a democratic future for a people long oppressed.
To the starry-eyed observer, Bush’s policies may appear to be an encouraging break from foreign policies fueled solely by self-interest. But actions, as the old saw says, speak louder than words. For expediency’s sake, the Bush administration is willing to obstruct the right of an ethnic minority’s self-determination. A proposed agreement eventually rejected by the Turkish Parliament would have given Turkish troops the ability to enter Iraqi Kurdistan for oversight purposes. Ignoring the latent possibility for abuse against the Kurdish population, the Bush administration was willing to undercut Kurdish rights to achieve its own military objectives.
While the Bush administration agitates for a democratic Iraq, it curries favor with despots. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a champion of authoritarian governance, earns high marks from the administration. “A force for regional stability” that has “demonstrated tolerance” is now the official description of the Malaysian state. When Vice President Al Gore called for liberal reforms in 1998, it appeared as though the United States had turned a corner in its relationship with the Asian tiger. The Bush administration, however, has retreated to a policy that places its own interests over Malaysian citizens’ interest in representative government. The power of the United States can be used to pressure governments for democratic reform, but the Bush administration’s behavior should leave all but the most na