by Austin Bay
Sept. 11 makes this July Fourth holiday an excellent time for
the American people, and the Bush administration, to dust off a document
signed by FDR and Winston Churchill in August 1941.
Inked on a U.S. Navy cruiser anchored off the Newfoundland
coast, the Atlantic Charter listed eight "common principles in the national
policies" of the United States and Great Britain. These included freedom of
trade, freedom of the seas and respect for "the right of all peoples to
choose the form of government under which they will live."
Sure, historians take a nick or two out of Winston on the
subject of political self-determination by subject people. The old bloke
still planned to restore the British Empire. FDR, however, was looking for a
joint statement of principles that would provide the strategic moral frame
for a democratic war effort. America was supplying Britain, but it still
hadn't traded shots with Hitler. Dec. 7 remained four months away.
After the United States entered World War II, the charter was
cited as the document that established the "Four Freedoms" as the western
Allies' philosophical war aims: freedom of speech, freedom of religion,
freedom from want and freedom from fear.
The massacre of Sept. 11 has given all but a sad handful of
Americans more than enough moral purpose to pursue the War on Terror.
Americans know there is much more to this war than revenge, but if we are
truly dedicated to destroying international terrorism, we must make that
absolutely clear to the rest of the world.
One audience we must reach are the people in the hard corners of
this planet, in the decayed autocracies, the brittle police states, the
chaotic failed states, the kleptocracies and the theocratic tyrannies that
attract and support international terror cartels.
The Bush administration has directly addressed one group mired
in this miserable category, the Palestinian people. President Bush's call
for a Palestinian democracy is a long-overdue response to the craven
political shenanigans that help perpetuate their bitter poverty and fear.
Those shenanigans -- fossilized tribal autocracies, religious tyrants and
gangster corruption -- utterly damn much of the Arab world. The only Arab
nation that even approaches a democracy is Jordan, with Kuwait arguably
making democratic gestures.
The Bush "democratic promise" is narrowly focused. Bush made
Palestinian democracy Washington's price for support of Palestinian
statehood. Given time, money and persistent diplomacy, a new breed of savvy
and secure Palestinian leaders may emerge to accept it.
But it's a mistake to limit the deal to Palestine. The Bush
administration needs to expand that promise to the embittered inhabitants of
the other regimes that harbor and promote global terrorists. Think of it as
a new Global Charter for this odd and nuanced global war.
Admittedly, as promises go, this is as big league as it gets.
Still, it's a restatement of past principles -- World War II's Four
Freedoms -- whose promise was denied.
The Cold War put the Four Freedoms in deep ice. Given the Soviet
threat and Moscow's tactic of "revolutionary destabilization," the United
States pursued stability at almost any price. All too often, strategic
stability meant accepting local repression. The Marcos Philippines, the
Shah's Iran, Mobutu's Zaire -- the list of authoritarians we created or
lived with is long. It was a tough and tragic bargain. Containing Moscow and
preventing nuclear war took deals with devils who would be our devils, not
The Cold War is kaput. In the Middle East, fossil autocracies
deflect internal criticism by promoting religious zealotry. To stabilize
their own regimes, they murder dissidents, stifle political debate and make
bogeymen of the United States and Israel. They export their own
troublemakers as anti-American terrorists.
President Bush laid the groundwork for a Global Charter in his
State of the Union address, when he hammered away on "the non-negotiable
demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state,
respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice and
These are attractive, powerful ideas -- ideas worth promoting,
ideas worth fighting for, ideas that undermine the angry appeal of Osama bin
Laden, ideas that forge a better future.
They are precisely the kind of ideas that will seed hope and
change hearts and minds in the brutalized, institutionalized poverty pockets
that now breed anti-American terrorists.
If they look like ideas found in the Declaration of Independence
or the Bill of Rights, it isn't a coincidence.