If you turned on CNN or BBC News this week you might have thought the year was 1992, not 2008. A Soviet ally stepped down from power while in Africa and Eastern Europe, citizens waved American flags as symbols of the march of freedom.
For the first time in years, the United States is in the middle of a string foreign policy victories. News of the Middle East has been pushed off the front page, as other parts of the world take center stage and the news is resoundingly positive and familiar. Freedom is, once again, on the march.
Although Michelle Obama can think of nothing that the United States has done to be proud of in the last quarter century, in my mind the greatest accomplishment of our nation is to be the example – that shining city on a hill – of how to promote peace through freedom. Democratic, capitalist nations do not fight each other and as the U.S. has promoted the values of democracy and capitalism around the globe, our tolerance for war and its tragic costs has diminished in turn. We’re seeing the results of these efforts this week in Africa as it welcomed President Bush and in Kosovo as it declared its independence.
Until President George W. Bush’s recent six-day tour to Africa, I doubt many Americans even thought that this administration had a foreign policy when it came to the continent. Neither friend nor foe in the War on Terror, the continent seemed to slog along in foreign policy obscurity as it had for decades previous. The refugee camps of Darfur gets attention from Hollywood but even that cause doesn’t resonate much with average Americans.
Which is why it was surprising to hear the President of Tanzania say that Bush, “will be remembered for many generations to come for the good things you’ve done for Tanzania and the good things you have done for Africa.” As Americans stand at the precipice of electing our first African-American President, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete told reporters, “the most important thing is, let him be as good [a] friend of Africa as President Bush has been”
This sentiment is echoed by Bob Geldof, – the rocker who brought us the Live 8 Concerts – saying that Bush “has done more than any other president so far.” And the sentiment can be seen in the reactions on the street, which even if they looked a bit contrived, required willing participants and organizers who thought that they were at least plausible demonstrations of gratitude towards the current U.S. president.
The White House has been criticized for pushing an abstinence-first policy towards fighting AIDS but the Bush Administration has increased AIDS funding multi-fold over the Clinton Administration. The current White House’s investment in fighting malaria have send disease rates falling. And people’s lives are improving as a result.
At the core of Bush’s Africa policy are the Millennium Challenge Accounts. Rather than distribute foreign aid willy-nilly around the globe, the Millennium Fund focuses on helping countries with strong records in governance and promoting democracy, making sure that the help that offered promotes core values like pluralism and freedom which America is hoping to spread around the globe.
It’s worked in other places. In the streets of Pristina, Kosovo, this weekend, these values flourished still, as the nation declared its independence from Serbia. Amid the pictures of celebrating Kosovars, one image resonated as a global icon of freedom: the Stars and Stripes. Indeed, to celebrate, their freedom, many Kosovars took to waiving the American flag, rather than their own, evoking memories of the beginning of the fall of the Iron Curtain, just as its last vestiges rusted away.
At the core of Bush’s Africa policy and Kosovo independence is the principle that, even without guns and bombs, freedom is on the march. With the retirement of Fildel Castro, we’re reminded that Freedom’s march is not always a fast one, but that it is one from which we should not retreat, and as its pace picks up again, we will realize that it will be morning in America – and around the globe – yet again.
UPDATE: Well they’re protesting in Belgrade now, and those who are opposing Kosovo’s freedom are targeting symbols of the west–storming the U.S. Embassy and defacing our flag. You sometimes must take the bad with the good, I suppose, in this reminder that freedom’s march isn’t always bloodless.