It’s become fashionable to blame undue emphasis on democratization for the failures of our foreign policy, rather than blaming the terrorists or inept implementation that favors promises to uphold democratic principles over sincerity. It’s ironic that progressives cheer as Bush abandons democracy and embraces autocrats as he backtracks toward realism.
As such, it’s important to contrast North and South Korea. As we went to war in Korea, the public debate had many striking parallels to today: Korea was a culture to which democracy was a foreign concept. The United States had bungled the war effort and become embroiled unwittingly in an unending conflict. Tension between President Truman and the Generals became the topic of the day. The press pilloried Truman as stupid and incompetent. He certainly did not understand the finesse of diplomacy and politics. Indeed, Truman is the only president whose approval ratings were lower than Bush’s.
The establishment was wrong. Truman consistently ranks as one of the top-five US presidents. He stuck to his principles. The realists were wrong as well. Democracy took root in South Korea, albeit as part of a decades-long process with a number of setbacks along the way. South Korea flourished because Washington was willing to make a long term commitment and stick to it. Today, we can juxtapose North and South Korea and see what a wise investment Truman made. It’s too bad, then, that with the stakes even higher, the Bush administration isn’t willing to uphold its states principles and maintain a commitment to liberals and democrats in Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Libya, and Lebanon.