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On Point

Remembering the Atlantic Charter

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 theirs.

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 religious tolerance."

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.

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