On Point: Remembering the Atlantic Charter

by Austin Bay
July 3, 2002

Sept. 11 makes this July Fourth holiday an excellent time forthe American people, and the Bush administration, to dust off a documentsigned by FDR and Winston Churchill in August 1941.

Inked on a U.S. Navy cruiser anchored off the Newfoundlandcoast, the Atlantic Charter listed eight "common principles in the nationalpolicies" of the United States and Great Britain. These included freedom oftrade, freedom of the seas and respect for "the right of all peoples tochoose the form of government under which they will live."

Sure, historians take a nick or two out of Winston on thesubject of political self-determination by subject people. The old blokestill planned to restore the British Empire. FDR, however, was looking for ajoint statement of principles that would provide the strategic moral framefor a democratic war effort. America was supplying Britain, but it stillhadn't traded shots with Hitler. Dec. 7 remained four months away.

After the United States entered World War II, the charter wascited as the document that established the "Four Freedoms" as the westernAllies' 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 ofAmericans 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 aretruly dedicated to destroying international terrorism, we must make thatabsolutely clear to the rest of the world.

One audience we must reach are the people in the hard corners ofthis planet, in the decayed autocracies, the brittle police states, thechaotic failed states, the kleptocracies and the theocratic tyrannies thatattract and support international terror cartels.

The Bush administration has directly addressed one group miredin this miserable category, the Palestinian people. President Bush's callfor a Palestinian democracy is a long-overdue response to the cravenpolitical shenanigans that help perpetuate their bitter poverty and fear.Those shenanigans -- fossilized tribal autocracies, religious tyrants andgangster corruption -- utterly damn much of the Arab world. The only Arabnation that even approaches a democracy is Jordan, with Kuwait arguablymaking democratic gestures.

The Bush "democratic promise" is narrowly focused. Bush madePalestinian democracy Washington's price for support of Palestinianstatehood. Given time, money and persistent diplomacy, a new breed of savvyand secure Palestinian leaders may emerge to accept it.

But it's a mistake to limit the deal to Palestine. The Bushadministration needs to expand that promise to the embittered inhabitants ofthe other regimes that harbor and promote global terrorists. Think of it asa 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 FourFreedoms -- whose promise was denied.

The Cold War put the Four Freedoms in deep ice. Given the Sovietthreat and Moscow's tactic of "revolutionary destabilization," the UnitedStates pursued stability at almost any price. All too often, strategicstability meant accepting local repression. The Marcos Philippines, theShah's Iran, Mobutu's Zaire -- the list of authoritarians we created orlived with is long. It was a tough and tragic bargain. Containing Moscow andpreventing nuclear war took deals with devils who would be our devils, nottheirs.

The Cold War is kaput. In the Middle East, fossil autocraciesdeflect internal criticism by promoting religious zealotry. To stabilizetheir own regimes, they murder dissidents, stifle political debate and makebogeymen of the United States and Israel. They export their owntroublemakers as anti-American terrorists.

President Bush laid the groundwork for a Global Charter in hisState of the Union address, when he hammered away on "the non-negotiabledemands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state,respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice andreligious tolerance."

These are attractive, powerful ideas -- ideas worth promoting,ideas worth fighting for, ideas that undermine the angry appeal of Osama binLaden, ideas that forge a better future.

They are precisely the kind of ideas that will seed hope andchange hearts and minds in the brutalized, institutionalized poverty pocketsthat now breed anti-American terrorists.

If they look like ideas found in the Declaration of Independenceor the Bill of Rights, it isn't a coincidence.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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