I was busy writing a column last night and didn't watch the State of the Union. However, I think it's safe to predict that, once again, there will be lively debate among some conservatives about President Bush's restatement of his claims that American can, almost literally, create peace on earth. Here is the key section of the speech, taken from the text posted at the New York Times (which includes some wonderful interactive links to related documents):
Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. On Sept. 11, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, so we will act boldly in freedom's cause.
Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time.
It isn't hard to figure out who Bush is pointing toward with his "some dismiss that goal" reference and, in this case, he is underlining a public disagreement with a certain conservative columnist. That would be Peggy Noonan, an outspoken Christian who also knows a thing or two about writing presidential speeches. A year ago, Noonan penned a post-SOTU piece that stunned many on the right, especially the religious right. Click here to flash back to that Wall Street Journal column. Meanwhile, here is a sample:
Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.
This morning, another outspoken conservative -- Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher of the Dallas Morning News -- lit into the top Texan against tyranny with a similar online comment.
The key question: Is there such a thing as a bad democracy? Or, stated another way, does the creation of democracies automatically defeat tyranny in a region? After 12 months of balloting in the Middle East, Dreher has some doubts:
What the president said was complete nonsense. "Dictatorships shelter terrorists?" Shoot, the Palestinians just elected terrorists! And you don't think Palestinian democracy "feed(s) resentment and radicalism?" It's their raison d'etre! And there is absolutely no reason to conclude that democracies will join the fight against terror. Some will -- and some will foment terror, if that is the wish of their people.
Perhaps Noonan will write again in a day or so. Watch this space (or the Journal's archives section).