The crisis in Egypt gives the Republican Party a new opportunity to reiterate its commitment to President George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda,” which championed liberal democracy as the crucial and necessary alternative to repression and radicalism.
There’s only one problem: a strong libertarian undertow, which is at the heart of the Tea Party movement, doesn’t really believe in the Freedom Agenda.
Libertarian leaders such as Grover Norquist, in fact, want America to come home and to tend to its own business. (Norquist has called for a “conversation” amongst conservatives about the costs and benefits of American involvement in Afghanistan.)
Rand Paul, likewise, wants to end all foreign aid, including the billions of dollars that we give annually to Israel and Egypt. Ditto the Republican Study Committee, which, according to Dave Weigel, has called for zeroing out the entire USAID budget.
Now, I don’t like foreign aid any more than the next conservative: Most foreign aid probably is economically wasteful and counterproductive. But the point of foreign aid is not economics; it is geopolitics: It is intended to shape a recipient country’s behavior and, quite literally, buy American influence. And it does just that.
The last thing we should do then is to eliminate all foreign aid out of a myopic and shortsighted desire to save money and reduce the deficit. Such an idea is penny wise and pound foolish; and it will undermine and harm vital U.S. national security interests.
At least now, in large part because of our aid to that country, we can shape and influence Egyptian public policy and behavior. Just imagine if we lacked this carrot how much less influence we would have there.
But libertarians like Norquist and Paul don’t see this. They don’t see the bigger strategic picture because they’re neo-isolationists who, like their far-left counterparts, want America to come home.
They want the American military to withdraw from the world. They don’t realize that America’s domestic prosperity is inextricably linked to our international military commitments and forward-leaning presence.
More authentic conservatives know better. George W. Bush certainly knew better, even if he was an imperfect president who fell short in other key respects (such as reining in domestic discretionary spending).
Today’s new Republican congressmen and senators can learn from our 43rd president, who, despite his mistakes, nonetheless stood squarely and forthrightly on the side of freedom and opportunity worldwide.
Indeed, the idea that liberal democracy is a Western value only is “a condescending form of moral relativism,” Bush told a conference of Middle Eastern elites in El Sheikh, Egypt, in May 2008. “The truth is that freedom is a universal right — the Almighty’s gift to every man, woman and child on the face of the earth.”
This doesn’t mean that the United States should impose liberal democracy at the point of a gun everywhere around the globe. That, obviously, would be unjust, reckless and imprudent.
However, it does mean that we should clearly, forthrightly and unequivocally support liberal democracy worldwide — and that no one should ever doubt where we stand.
The United States stands firmly and proudly on the side of liberty. And we will use all means of our national power — including foreign aid and military assistance — to ensure the survival and success of liberty worldwide.
Of course, this doesn’t accord with the new libertarian ethos of the modern Republican Party and Tea Party movements. It is, instead, a profoundly conservative idea championed by such “old-school” Republicans as Ronald Reagan.
But it is an idea that corresponds with our longstanding national political tradition and historic foreign policy. And is that idea which is being sorely tested right now on the streets of Egypt — a country whose destiny is now inextricably linked to our own.