Every year about this time there arrives on my desk a map from New York-based Freedom House depicting how freedom is faring around the world
"Free" and "partly free" countries are colored in green or yellow. "Not free" countries show up in purple. Predictably, North America and most of Latin America, as well as Europe, southern Africa, Australasia and much of Asia, look good. But a broad swath of Africa, through the Arab world and across into China and North Korea is in purple — countries not yet free.
The explosion of democracy is one of the most significant developments of our times and inevitably will continue. Who could not be moved by the weekend pictures of endless lines of Afghans voting for the first time — despite allegations of fraud — in their first presidential election? Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, is colored a "partly free" yellow on the Freedom House map, but in light of recent elections should soon move into the "green" free column. Russia, in spite of Vladimir Putin's attempts to turn back the clock, will in time move from "partly free" to "free," and China, despite its leaders' vain hopes of maintaining communist control over a population fast embracing a free enterprise economy, will one day emerge from the ranks of the "not free" to become at least "partly free." Even in benighted Africa there is hope. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman, has just won the Nobel Peace Prize as an "inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace."
It is in the Muslim Middle East that the outlook is darkest. In Iraq, where a dictator guilty of enormous crimes against humanity has been removed, but where democracy's tender shoots are just being planted, the Bush administration places its hope in the emergence of ultimate freedom that could be an example to the backward and angry Arab world.
It is this hope, and particularly the manner in which it is to be realized, that has clearly set the candidates apart in the current debates underpinning the contest for the American presidency.
The report last week by Charles A. Duelfer, top U.S. inspector for Iraq, makes it clear that Iraq no longer had the weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration believed it had when it launched its invasion of Iraq. But former chief weapons inspector David Kay said the international intelligence from a variety of countries was unanimous at that time that the weapons did exist. While Kay says we now need better intelligence collection and more skeptical evaluation of it by politicians and government officials, he suggested to National Public Radio that had Al Gore been president at the time and confronted by that estimate he would have moved as determinedly against Saddam Hussein as did Bush.
Of course we do not know whether Gore would have done so, nor do we know, despite Sen. John Kerry's angry declaiming against Saddam Hussein at the time, whether he, if in the White House, would have been as tentative and cautious toward Iraq as he now says he would have been.
President Bush is unapologetic about moving on faulty weapons intelligence and sees the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as part of a militant, near-religious vision to bring liberty to the unfree nations of the world. In an analysis of Kerry's foreign policy views in the New York Times Magazine this weekend, writer Matt Bai says Bush in the first debate seemed "to be looking at the world from a much higher altitude." In Bush's view, "America is the world's great force for freedom, unsparing in its use of pre-emptive might and unstinting in its determination to stamp out tyranny and terrorism." Kerry, by contrast, "seemed to offer no grand thematic equivalent."
Kerry rejects the "premise of viral democracy, particularly when the virus is introduced at gunpoint." Says Kerry: "You can't impose it on people." The Times article suggests that if forced democracy is Bush's panacea for the world's ills, then Kerry's is diplomacy. "Kerry mentions the importance of cooperating with the world community so often that some of his strongest supporters wish he would ease up a bit." Joe Biden, perhaps Kerry's closest friend in the Senate, is quoted in the Times article as despairing: "When people hear multilateral, they think multimush."
From Bush: militant pursuit of democracy. From Kerry: a more complex approach to what he sees as a more complex world. A clear distinction.
John Hughes is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News. He is a former editor of the Christian Science Monitor, which syndicates this column. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org