Former Sec. of State: Better world requires democracy, American leadership

Former Secretary of State James Baker said the U.S. government wants to allow other countries to determine their own governments and “when we say we want to promote democracy, we’re not doing it at the point of a gun.”

Baker spoke to a crowd of U students, community leaders and the Utah public Monday at Kingsbury Hall as part of President Michael Young’s Inauguration activities and the last lecturer in the Middle East Lecture Series.

Baker said Afghanistan and Iraq were two exceptions where the United States used force to rid Afghans of the Taliban and oppose Saddam Hussein to give the Iraqi people a shot at freedom. He added that Iraqis had a 60-percent turnout in their free election-better than U.S. participation in the November 2004 presidential race.

Now that democracy has taken hold in Iraq, he said, purple fingers are replacing car bombs as a sign for change.

“Democracy is messy, but in the words of Winston Churchill, it’s better than anything else,” Baker said. “The idea is not to impose it, but to encourage people to see the benefits of democracy.”

He quoted U.S. Army Colonel Mark Martins, who described democracy as an all-terrain vehicle good for fighting insurgents. “He is right,” Baker said. “What is happening isn’t always pretty, but it’s sometimes very effective.”

Since Sept. 11, Baker said, the Middle East has seen an incredible opportunity where democracy can take hold in parts of the world that have been condemned by tyranny. However, the world needs American leadership, which has been the historic champion of democratic values around the world, he added.

At times, Baker said, the United States must act unilaterally to protect its vital interests because the first duty of the government is to protect its citizens.

“Pre-emptive military action against terrorist groups and the states that harbor them is not merely justifiable, sometimes it is imperative,” he said. “America is not and does not intend to be an empire…the United States wants and needs the cooperation of the international community, but one that cherishes freedom and peace.”

Baker said satellite television and the Internet have made it tough for authoritarian governments to control the news.

The effects of freer media in the Middle East, he said, could have the same effect as television news had on the United States during the Vietnam War. While democracy is making strides in the region, Baker said many problems remain-the primary of which is promoting public diplomacy to explain U.S. policy in the Muslim world.

“It is critical that the Muslim world understand that we have no problems with Muslims, only with extremists who advocate, promote and execute violence,” Baker said.

“The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East,” he said, citing Syria’s pull out from Lebanon, Libya giving up weapons of mass destruction, free elections in Iraq and Palestine and President Mubarak’s decision to allow multiple candidates for Egypt’s next election. “Only time will tell if there will be a flowering of democracy along the banks of the Euphrates and the Nile,” Baker said. “There are many hurdles yet to overcome.”

Baker also praised President Young, who served as one of his lawyers during the first Bush administration.

“If you’re going to serve in Washington, D.C., in the political environment we have now, you better have yourself a good lawyer, and I had an extraordinarily able lawyer who served me and this country extraordinarily well,” Baker said. “You have an energetic administrator who is your president and his hard work will definitely benefit this fine school.”

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