Posted on January 18, 2005
President Bush has made an excellent choice in nominating Dr. Condoleezza Rice to be America's next Secretary of State. Her experience as National Security Advisor will make her uniquely effective. When foreign leaders talk with Dr. Rice, they will know she is speaking with the President's voice. I will have a question for Dr. Rice about Iraq and one beyond Iraq. The major issue confronting Dr. Rice and our nation is the war in Iraq. Some of my colleagues have said we need an exit strategy in Iraq. I disagree. We don't need an exit strategy in Iraq, we need a success strategy — but such a strategy may mean taking a more realistic view of what we mean by "success." It is one thing to help people to win their freedom. It is another to help a country become a stable, pluralistic, democratic, flourishing society. How many American lives are we willing to sacrifice to do this? How long are we willing for it to take? What is our standard for "success?" That leads me to the question beyond Iraq, and it is this: the next time the opportunity occurs for the United States to undertake regime change or nation building, what advice will Dr. Rice give President Bush about the lessons we have learned in Iraq? During his campaign for the presidency in 2000, President Bush was critical of nation building. That was before September 11, 2001. Our initial war in Iraq was a stunning success. What came afterwards has been a series of miscalculations. But the United States has engaged in nation building more than a dozen times since World War II. Based upon those experiences, should we not have anticipated that nation building in Iraq would have required more troops, more money and taken longer than we expected? And what do these lessons say about our future policy toward nation building? American history is the story of setting noble goals and struggling to reach them and often falling short. We sincerely say that "anything is possible," "all men are created equal" and "no child will be left behind," even though we know down deep we will fall short and we will have to keep trying. We also have said we want to make the world safe for democracy and we remember an inaugural speech 44 years ago in which a new President said we would "pay any price, bear any burden" for freedom. Yet there obviously is a limit to what we can do, and what we are willing to do and the number of lives we will sacrifice to secure the blessings of freedom and democracy for others. At President Reagan's funeral last June, Senator Jack Danforth said the text for his homily was "the obvious," Matthew 5:14-16. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your father in heaven." From our beginning, that vision of the city on a hill has helped to define what it means to be an American and provided America with a moral mission. It helps explain why we invaded Iraq, why we fought wars "to make the world safe for democracy," and why we are forever involving ourselves in other nations' business. It is why when I was in Mozambique last summer I found 800 Americans, 400 of them missionaries and most of the rest diplomats or aid workers. But is it possible that too much nation building runs the risk of extending too far the vision of the city on a hill? Letting a light shine so that others may see our good works does not necessarily mean that we must invade a country and change its regime and remain there until it begins to look like us. It may mean instead that we strive harder to understand and celebrate our own values of democracy, equal opportunity, individualism, tolerance, the rule of law and the other principles that we hope will be exported to other parts of the world. How we ourselves live would then become our most persuasive claim to real leadership in a world filled with people hungry to know how to live their lives. For example, in my own experience, and I am sure in Dr. Rice's, we have found that sometimes the most effective way to export our values is to train foreign students at our universities who then return home to become leaders in their own countries. Of course we will never say that only some men are created equal, that only some children will not be left behind or that we will pay only some price to defend freedom. But perhaps we should think more about strategies for extending freedom and democracy in the world other than nation building and determine what those strategies are and when they most appropriately might be used.