President Bush's speech last week on the war on terror has garnered criticism for his insistence that the triumph of democracy in the Middle East remains the theme of American policy. There are plenty of reasons to find fault with Bush's foreign policy, but Bush's commitment to the spread of democracy remains admirable and a good idea.
It's difficult to have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the Iraqi government's leaders to both create and defend a democratic system. But the question for those who oppose the American decision to back them remains what reasonable alternatives to this policy would be that does not entail handing over this country to the likes of Al Qaeda. Bush rightly termed the insurgents in Iraq "Islamo-fascists" who must be resisted. But the problem for Washington is not the administration's belief that this struggle is both just and necessary. The question is why its belief that no compromise can be made on fighting the terrorists begins and ends in Iraq. Because going by its recent statements, the administration seems to think different rules apply to the Palestinians.
Since Israel finished its unilateral pullout from Gaza, the Palestinian Authority – led by Washington's favorite man, Mahmoud Abbas – hasn't shown much interest in fighting the Palestinian Islamo-fascists who go by the name of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Nor is there much difference between them and the many supporters of Abbas who still practice terror themselves.
Law, order and a renunciation of terror aren't even on the Palestinian horizon. But the United States is willing to downplay the democracy theme so as not to embarrass Abbas, for whom, it must be admitted, there are also no good alternatives. But the fact that Al Qaeda is moving into the power vacuum in Gaza that Israel left behind should scare everyone. What Washington needs to do is to remember that democracy and an end to terror are just as important for the Palestinians – who continue to threaten the one real democracy in the region – as it is for the Iraqis.
The Politics of Principle
The death of Philadelphia Councilman David Cohen at the age of 90 gives us a reason to reflect on the nature of politics in our time. It is fitting, of course, to celebrate Cohen's life. A career that started in the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and concluded during the mayoralty of John Street is impressive in of itself. Cohen rose through education and hard work to become one of the city's most distinguished political figures, holding office until he died as the sole Jewish member of the Philadelphia City Council.
But it's even more appropriate that we praise the late councilman's style of politics, which included a devotion to principle no matter what the cost. While that sort of behavior was never exactly a universal attribute of politicians, it is rarer than ever today.
It doesn't matter whether or not you agreed with every one of this New Deal liberal's positions over the years. But what was most admirable about Cohen was his belief that principle always came first over even what some of his fellow Democrats saw as pragmatic compromises. In a city where the expression "pay to play" has remained a watchword of political life, Cohen's hardheaded refusal to bend to the spirit of the times was refreshing.
Would that all of our leaders, whether Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, were as dedicated to their belief in what was right or wrong as was David Cohen. And would that they all were as ready to place what they viewed as the interests of their constituents over the desires of special interests and large contributors. May his memory be for a blessing.