REVOLT OF THE NEOCONS, CON'T. Danielle Pletka and Michael Rubin take Bush to task in the Los Angeles Times today for -- fancy that! -- not living up to his pro-democracy rhetoric:

LAST WEEK, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced resumption of full U.S. diplomatic relations with Libya, citing Tripoli's renunciation of terrorism and intelligence cooperation. This ends a quarter-century diplomatic freeze. It also marks an effective end to the Bush doctrine.

At his second inauguration, President Bush declared: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

Since that soaring pronouncement, the Bush administration has watched Egypt abrogate elections, ignored the collapse of the so-called Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and abandoned imprisoned Chinese dissidents; now Washington is mulling a peace treaty with Stalinist North Korea.

The rhetoric of democracy, it turns out, comes more easily than its implementation. Washington worries that Egypt will bow out of the fight against Al Qaeda if the U.S. presses for reform. It worries that China will bar investment if Bush presses for the release of political prisoners. Are these fears realistic? No. These countries still have interests that parallel ours. But that won't be clear unless the president forces the tyrants to make a choice: reform or face isolation...

Is it possible that the administration is questioning the wisdom of promoting democracy as a long-term solution to U.S. national security woes? "Realists" suggest that the president has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. They say democracy gave us an Islamist government in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine. It could give us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Heaven knows what it would spawn in China or Libya. Better the devil you know.

But there is no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking. The president continues to believe his own preaching, but his administration has become incapable of making the hard choices those beliefs require. Instead, it has been quick to embrace the showy, if transitory, political advantages...

I have nothing substantive to add to their analysis of Bush's actions, which seems accurate. But I will note that it's an irrational faith in the power of "force" to transform people and societies that most defines the neoconservatives, and not their belief that people ought to be self-governing, which many liberals share. To the extent that the president is pulling back from his "all stick, no carrot" approach to international relations, it's a good thing, though his newer cozy alliances with dictators are just as impossible to defend now as they were a year ago or two years ago, when liberals were decrying them (see "Freedom Fraud," by Matthew Yglesias, May 2004) and Bush was still a neocon hero. And its also not at all clear that Bush will be open to engagement where it really matters, as with Iran.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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