Turnabout is Fair Play

Here is President Obama in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait – a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don’t, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention – no matter how justified.

And here is David Frum reacting to that part of the speech:

The word “Iraq” does not appear in the address, yet again and again the president flails out against that war. That is his opinion and his policy. Fine. Elections have consequences, as the saying goes. But Oslo is a horribly inappropriate venue for such criticisms. If he wants to argue with other Americans, let him do it in America, not in the course of accepting an award from some non-Americans for joining with them in their criticism of other Americans.

It’s human nature to prefer compliments to criticism, flattery to dissent. In that respect, Barack Obama is a very human man. But here he has gone too far: He has allowed an international organization to exploit his weakness to drive a wedge between this president and half his country – the half, ironically, whose support he most needs to sustain his ongoing foreign policy.

If it is inappropriate for Barack Obama to argue against the Iraq War in front of an international audience, due to the wedge it supposedly drives between a president and half his country, was it equally objectionable when George W. Bush and officials in his administration spoke to foreign audiences about the righteousness of the Iraq invasion?

For example, he told a London, England audience this in 2003:

The United States and Great Britain have labored hard to help make the United Nations what it is supposed to be — an effective instrument of our collective security. In recent months, we’ve sought and gained three additional resolutions on Iraq — Resolutions 1441, 1483 and 1511 — precisely because the global danger of terror demands a global response. The United Nations has no more compelling advocate than your Prime Minister, who at every turn has championed its ideals and appealed to its authority. He understands, as well, that the credibility of the U.N. depends on a willingness to keep its word and to act when action is required.

America and Great Britain have done, and will do, all in their power to prevent the United Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance and inviting the fate of the League of Nations. It’s not enough to meet the dangers of the world with resolutions; we must meet those dangers with resolve.

Later in the same speech he said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold.

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.

Would it be fair to object to President Bush’s speech by saying, “The Iraq invasion is his opinion and his policy. Fine. Elections have consequences, as the saying goes. But Britain is a horribly inappropriate venue for such criticisms. If he wants to argue with other Americans, let him do it in America, not in the course of addressing an audience of some non-Americans for joining with him in a military campaign and democracy spreading agenda that other Americans abhor”?

Would it be fair to complain that President Bush kept apologizing for America by repeating in speech after speech the lines about flaws in our Middle East policy stretching back through the generations?

I don’t think so.

President Bush plainly believed that invading Iraq was in America’s best interests — and that the country would benefit insofar as he could convince the rest of the world that his vision had merit, a proposition that included apologizing for past American policies that plainly contradicted that vision.

President Obama believes that the Iraq War wasn’t in America’s interest, that it ought to be ended as soon as responsibly possible, and that the country will benefit insofar as he can convince the rest of the world that his vision has merit, a proposition that includes apologizing for past American policies that plainly contradict his vision.

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2 Responses to “Turnabout is Fair Play”

  1. citifieddoug Says:

    Where did Frum get the idea that the GOP is half the country? One-fifth makes the same point and benefits from being true.

  2. Brian Schmidt Says:

    Obama correctly believes that changing a wrong policy brings international benefits, so it’s in the American interest to acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake. Does Frum think the Belgians should never acknowledge what they did in the Congo because some Belgians defend it?

    Bush believed, incorrectly, in his own policy but correctly understood that carrying it out required international cooperation. He wasn’t wrong in speaking out, and neither was Obama.

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