[GLOBAL EYE]How freedom spreads is keyU.S. President George W. Bush emphasized the expansion of freedom and human rights in his second inaugural address in mid-January, using the word “freedom” 49 times in his speech.
President Bush is not the first U.S. president to mention freedom and human rights. Many of his predecessors had strongly advocated these issues and never hidden their conviction that America was obliged to expand freedom to other nations. The world, in return, did not oppose America’s desire to proliferate freedom. Rather, the international community has been widely supportive of Washington’s conviction.
One of the most notable examples is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms.” The president’s address to Congress in the last days of World War II contained a shockingly refreshing and hopeful message to the world.
Yet another alliance of the United States and the world under the banner of freedom came in front of the Berlin Wall on June 23, 1963. Denouncing the temporary blockade of Berlin, President John F. Kennedy stood in front of the wall and proclaimed, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’” Kennedy’s famous comment became a favorite slogan among the champions and seekers of freedom around the world.
However, President Bush’s address on the expansion of freedom has failed to impress the world, much less America. Rather, the speech has invoked opposition not just from some American intellectuals of conscience, including Noam Chomsky, but from overseas as well. Offended European media even asked whether the United States was qualified to be the messenger of freedom.
They were all U.S. presidents using the same word, “freedom.” Why are the reactions so drastically different? What does President Bush lack that Roosevelt and Kennedy had?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, had said that the important thing was not the number of enemies you kill but the number of supporters you win over, and President Bush seemed to be unfamiliar with the distinction.
Mr. Gingrich’s comment applies to international dynamics as well as domestic politics. In the past, the United States spread the virtue of freedom through its “soft power,” as opposed to its “hard power.” Many nations were willing to accept the proliferation of freedom that Washington advocated. The United States exploited freedom as one of its appeals, and such an attitude convinced other nations that America was an ideal model without making them feel offended or fearful.
However, the United States under the leadership of President Bush has lost a considerable part of its “soft power” appeal. As the United Nations pointed out, post-Cold War America has revealed a unilateralist attitude and double standards toward human rights issues. Moreover, the United States pushed for a nominally liberal election in Iraq that was only made possible with the intervention and protective measures of the U.S. military. Today, excessive intervention and use of military power overshadow the appeal of freedom.
President Bush’s idea of freedom is far from the concept of freedom and human rights advocated by the U.S. presidents in the 20th century. It is also different from the concept of freedom Natan Sharansky called “the town square test,” which President Bush is known to favor. Critics worry that President Bush’s expansion of freedom, or forcing of freedom, might demote it to a base tool of the military and of political purposes instead of an absolute value.
If America is to remain as the model state idealized by people around the world in the 21st century, Washington should persuade others with charm, not by force. Even if President Bush proclaims freedom not 49 times, but 490 times, it would not spread American-style freedom around the world.
Proliferation of freedom depends more on appeal than force. If the United States continues to use its “hard power” to push for the expansion of freedom to the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world, the American appeal would decline faster and faster.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan