The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terrorby George Soros
After reflecting on his support of a losing Democrat for president, George Soros steps back to revisit his views on why George Bush's policies around the world fall short in the arenas most important to Soros: democracy, human rights and open society. As a survivor of the Holocaust and a life-long proponent of free expression, Soros understands the meaning of freedom. And yet his differences with George Bush, another proponent of freedom, are profound.
In this powerful essay Soros spells out his views and how they differ from the president's. He reflects on why the Democrats may have lost the high ground on these values issues and how they might reclaim it. As he has in his recent books, On Globalization and The Bubble of American Supremacy, Soros uses facts, anecdotes, personal experience and philosophy to illuminate a major topic in a way that both enlightens and inspires.
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President George W. Bush's second inaugural address set forth an ambitious vision of the role of the United States in advancing the cause of freedom worldwide. In Iraq and beyond, when the President says "freedom will prevail," he means that America will prevail. This has impugned our motives and deprived us of whatever moral authority we once had in intervening in other countries' domestic affairs.
To explain what is wrong with the new Bush doctrine, articulated in his speech, I must invoke the concept of open society. This the concept that has guided me in my efforts to foster freedom around the world. Paradoxically, the most successful open society in the world, the United States, does not properly understand the first principles of an open society; indeed, its current leadership actively disavows them.
The concept of open society is based on the recognition that nobody possesses the ultimate truth, and that to claim otherwise leads to repression. In short, we may be wrong. That is precisely the possibility that Bush refuses to acknowledge, and his denial appeals to a significant segment of the American public. An equally significant segment is appalled. This has left the U.S. not only deeply divided, but also at loggerheads with much of the rest of the world, which considers our policies highhanded and arbitrary.
President Bush regards his reelection as an endorsement of his policies, and feels reinforced in his distorted view of the world. The "accountability moment" passed, he claimed, and he is ready to confront tyranny throughout the world according to his own lights.
But we cannot forego the critical process that is at the core of an open society — as we did for eighteen months after September 11, 2001. That is what led us into the Iraq quagmire. A better understanding of the concept of open society would require us to distinguish between promoting freedom and democracy and promoting American values and interests. If it is freedom and democracy that we want, we can foster it only by strengthening international law and international institutions.
Bush is right to assert that repressive regimes can no longer hide behind a cloak of sovereignty: What goes on inside tyrannies and failed states is of vital interest to the rest of the world. But intervention in other states' internal affairs must be legitimate, which requires clearly established rules.
As the dominant power in the world, America has a unique responsibility to provide leadership in international cooperation. America cannot do whatever it wants, as the Iraqi debacle has demonstrated; but, at the same time, nothing much can be achieved in the way of international cooperation without U.S. leadership, or at least its active participation. Only by taking these lessons to heart can progress be made toward the lofty goals that Bush has announced.
Meet the Author
George Soros heads Soros Fund Management and is the founder of a global network of foundations dedicated to supporting open societies. He is the author of several best-selling books including The Bubble of American Supremacy, Underwriting Democracy, and Open Society.
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