[Paleopsych] NYT Mag: Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread?

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Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread?
New York Times Magazine, 5.6.26


    As Thomas Jefferson lay dying at his hilltop estate, Monticello, in
    late June 1826, he wrote a letter telling the citizens of the city of
    Washington that he was too ill to join them for the 50th-anniversary
    celebrations of the Declaration of Independence. Wanting his letter to
    inspire the gathering, he told them that one day the experiment he and
    the founders started would spread to the whole world. ''To some parts
    sooner, to others later, but finally to all,'' he wrote, the American
    form of republican self-government would become every nation's
    birthright. Democracy's worldwide triumph was assured, he went on to
    say, because ''the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of
    opinion'' would soon convince all men that they were born not to be
    ruled but to rule themselves in freedom.

    It was the last letter he ever wrote. The slave-owning apostle of
    liberty, that incomparable genius and moral scandal, died 10 days
    later on July 4, 1826, on the same day as his old friend and fellow
    founder, John Adams.

    It's impossible to untangle the contradictions of American freedom
    without thinking about Jefferson and the spiritual abyss that
    separates his pronouncement that ''all men are created equal'' from
    the reality of the human beings he owned, slept with and never
    imagined as fellow citizens. American freedom aspires to be universal,
    but it has always been exceptional because America is the only modern
    democratic experiment that began in slavery. From the Emancipation
    Proclamation of 1863 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it took a
    century for the promise of American freedom to even begin to be kept.

    Despite the exceptional character of American liberty, every American
    president has proclaimed America's duty to defend it abroad as the
    universal birthright of mankind. John F. Kennedy echoed Jefferson
    when, in a speech in 1961, he said that the spread of freedom abroad
    was powered by ''the force of right and reason''; but, he went on, in
    a sober and pragmatic vein, ''reason does not always appeal to
    unreasonable men.'' The contrast between Kennedy and the current
    incumbent of the White House is striking. Until George W. Bush, no
    American president -- not even Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson --
    actually risked his presidency on the premise that Jefferson might be
    right. But this gambler from Texas has bet his place in history on the
    proposition, as he stated in a speech in March, that decades of
    American presidents' ''excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the
    pursuit of stability'' in the Middle East inflamed the hatred of the
    fanatics who piloted the planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11.

    If democracy plants itself in Iraq and spreads throughout the Middle
    East, Bush will be remembered as a plain-speaking visionary. If Iraq
    fails, it will be his Vietnam, and nothing else will matter much about
    his time in office. For any president, it must be daunting to know
    already that his reputation depends on what Jefferson once called ''so
    inscrutable [an] arrangement of causes and consequences in this

    The consequences are more likely to be positive if the president
    begins to show some concern about the gap between his words and his
    administration's performance. For he runs an administration with the
    least care for consistency between what it says and does of any
    administration in modern times. The real money committed to the
    promotion of democracy in the Middle East is trifling. The president
    may have doubled the National Endowment for Democracy's budget, but it
    is still only $80 million a year. But even if there were more money,
    there is such doubt in the Middle East that the president actually
    means what he says -- in the wake of 60 years of American presidents
    cozying up to tyrants in the region -- that every dollar spent on
    democracy in the Middle East runs the risk of undermining the cause it
    supports. Actual Arab democrats recoil from the embrace of American
    good intentions. Just ask a community-affairs officer trying to give
    American dollars away for the promotion of democracy in Mosul, in
    northern Iraq, how easy it is to get anyone to even take the money,
    let alone spend it honestly.

    And then there are the prisoners, the hooded man with the wires
    hanging from his body, the universal icon of the gap between the
    ideals of American freedom and the sordid -- and criminal -- realities
    of American detention and interrogation practice. The fetid example of
    these abuses makes American talk of democracy sound hollow. It will
    not be possible to encourage the rule of law in Egypt if America is
    sending Hosni Mubarak shackled prisoners to torture. It will be
    impossible to secure democratic change in Morocco or Afghanistan or
    anywhere else if Muslims believe that American guards desecrated the
    Koran. The failure to convict anybody higher than a sergeant for these
    crimes leaves many Americans and a lot of the world wondering whether
    Jefferson's vision of America hasn't degenerated into an ideology of
    self-congratulation, whose function is no longer to inspire but to
    And yet . . . and yet. . . .

    If Jefferson's vision were only an ideology of self-congratulation, it
    would never have inspired Americans to do the hard work of reducing
    the gap between dream and reality. Think about the explosive force of
    Jefferson's self-evident truth. First white working men, then women,
    then blacks, then the disabled, then gay Americans -- all have used
    his words to demand that the withheld promise be delivered to them.
    Without Jefferson, no Lincoln, no Emancipation Proclamation. Without
    the slave-owning Jefferson, no Martin Luther King Jr. and the dream of
    white and black citizens together reaching the Promised Land.

    Jefferson's words have had the same explosive force abroad. American
    men and women in two world wars died believing that they had fought to
    save the freedom of strangers. And they were not deceived. Bill
    Clinton saluted the men who died at Omaha Beach with the words, ''They
    gave us our world.'' That seems literally true: a democratic Germany,
    an unimaginably prosperous Europe at peace with itself. The men who
    died at Iwo Jima bequeathed their children a democratic Japan and 60
    years of stability throughout Asia.

    These achievements have left Americans claiming credit for everything
    good that has happened since, especially the fact that there are more
    democracies in the world than at any time in history. Jefferson's
    vaunting language makes appropriate historical modesty particularly
    hard, yet modesty is called for. Freedom's global dispersion owes less
    to America and more to a contagion of local civic courage, beginning
    with the people of Portugal and Spain who threw off dictatorship in
    the 1970's, the Eastern Europeans who threw off Communism in the 90's
    and the Georgians, Serbs, Kyrgyz and Ukrainians who have thrown off
    post-Soviet autocratic governments since. The direct American role in
    these revolutions was often slight, but American officials, spies and
    activists were there, too, giving a benign green light to regime
    change from the streets.

    This democratic turn in American foreign policy has been recent. Latin
    Americans remember when the American presence meant backing death
    squads and military juntas. Now in the Middle East and elsewhere, when
    the crowds wave Lebanese flags in Beirut and clamor for the Syrians to
    go, when Iraqi housewives proudly hold up their purple fingers on
    exiting the polling stations, when Afghans quietly line up to vote in
    their villages, when Egyptians chant ''Enough!'' and demand that
    Mubarak leave power, few Islamic democrats believe they owe their free
    voice to America. But many know that they have not been silenced, at
    least not yet, because the United States actually seems, for the first
    time, to be betting on them and not on the autocrats.

    In the cold war, most presidents opted for stability at the price of
    liberty when they had to choose. This president, as his second
    Inaugural Address made clear, has soldered stability and liberty
    together: ''America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now
    one.'' As he has said, ''Sixty years of Western nations excusing and
    accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to
    make us safe -- because in the long run stability cannot be purchased
    at the expense of liberty.''

    It is terrorism that has joined together the freedom of strangers and
    the national interest of the United States. But not everyone believes
    that democracy in the Middle East will actually make America safer,
    even in the medium term. Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment
    for International Peace, for one, has questioned the ''facile
    assumption that a straight line exists between progress on
    democratization and the elimination of the roots of Islamic
    terrorism.'' In the short term, democratization in Egypt, for example,
    might only bring the radical Muslim Brotherhood to power. Even in the
    medium term, becoming a democracy does not immunize a society from
    terrorism. Just look at democratic Spain, menaced by Basque terrorism.

    Moreover, proclaiming freedom to be God's plan for mankind, as the
    president has done, does not make it so. There is, as yet, no evidence
    of a sweeping tide of freedom and democracy through the Middle East.
    Lebanon could pitch from Syrian occupation into civil strife; Egypt
    might well re-elect Mubarak after a fraudulent exercise in
    pseudodemocracy; little Jordan hopes nobody will notice that
    government remains the family monopoly of the Hashemite dynasty;
    Tunisia remains a good place for tourists but a lousy place for
    democrats; democratic hopes are most alive in Palestine, but here the
    bullet is still competing with the ballot box. Over it all hangs Iraq,
    poised between democratic transition and anarchy.

    And yet . . . and yet. . . . More than one world leader has been heard
    to ask his advisers recently, ''What if Bush is right?''
    Other democratic leaders may suspect Bush is right, but that doesn't
    mean they are joining his crusade. Never have there been more
    democracies. Never has America been more alone in spreading
    democracy's promise.

    The reticence extends even to those nations that owe their democracy
    to American force of arms. Freedom in Germany was an American imperial
    imposition, from the cashiering of ex-Nazi officials and the expunging
    of anti-Semitic nonsense from school textbooks to the drafting of a
    new federal constitution. Yet Chancellor Gerhard Schroder can still
    intone that democracy cannot be ''forced upon these societies from the
    outside.'' This is not the only oddity. As Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of
    the German weekly Die Zeit points out, the '68-ers now in power in
    Germany all spent their radical youth denouncing American support for
    tyrannies around the world: ''Across the Atlantic they shouted:
    Pinochet! Somoza! Mubarak! Shah Pahlevi! King Faisal! Now it seems as
    though an American president has finally heard their complaints. . . .
    But what is coming out of Germany? . . . Nothing but deafening

    The deafening silence extends beyond Germany. Like Germany, Canada sat
    out the war in Iraq. Ask the Canadians why they aren't joining the
    American crusade to spread democracy, and you get this from their
    government's recent foreign-policy review: ''Canadians hold their
    values dear, but are not keen to see them imposed on others. This is
    not the Canadian way.'' One reason it is not the Canadian way is that
    when American presidents speak of liberty as God's plan for mankind,
    even God-fearing Canadians wonder when God began disclosing his plan
    to presidents.

    The same discomfort with the American project extends to the nation
    that, in the splendid form of the Marquis de Lafayette, once joined
    the American fight for freedom. The French used to talk about
    exporting Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité, but nowadays they don't seem
    to mind standing by and watching Iraqi democrats struggling to keep
    chaos and anarchy at bay. Even America's best friend, Tony Blair, is
    circumspect about defining the Iraq project as anything more than
    managing the chaos. The strategy unit at 10 Downing Street recently
    conducted a study on how to prevent future international crises: debt
    relief, overseas aid and humanitarian intervention were all featured,
    but the promotion of democracy and freedom barely got a mention.
    European political foundations and overseas development organizations
    do promote free elections and rule of law, but they bundle up these
    good works in the parlance of ''governance'' rather than in the
    language of spreading freedom and democracy. So America presides over
    a loose alliance of democracies, most of whose leaders think that
    promoting freedom and democracy is better left to the zealous
    imperialists in Washington.

    The charge that promoting democracy is imperialism by another name is
    baffling to many Americans. How can it be imperialist to help people
    throw off the shackles of tyranny?

    It may be that other nations just have longer memories of their own
    failed imperial projects. From Napoleon onward, France sought to
    export French political virtues, though not freedom itself, to its
    colonies. The British Empire was sustained by the conceit that the
    British had a special talent for government that entitled them to
    spread the rule of law to Kipling's ''lesser breeds.'' In the 20th
    century, the Soviet Union advanced missionary claims about the
    superiority of Soviet rule, backed by Marxist pseudoscience.

    What is exceptional about the Jefferson dream is that it is the last
    imperial ideology left standing in the world, the sole survivor of
    national claims to universal significance. All the others -- the
    Soviet, the French and the British -- have been consigned to the ash
    heap of history. This may explain why what so many Americans regard as
    simply an exercise in good intentions strikes even their allies as a
    delusive piece of hubris.

    The problem here is that while no one wants imperialism to win, no one
    in his right mind can want liberty to fail either. If the American
    project of encouraging freedom fails, there may be no one else
    available with the resourcefulness and energy, even the
    self-deception, necessary for the task. Very few countries can achieve
    and maintain freedom without outside help. Big imperial allies are
    often necessary to the establishment of liberty. As the Harvard
    ethicist Arthur Applbaum likes to put it, ''All foundings are
    forced.'' Just remember how much America itself needed the assistance
    of France to free itself of the British. Who else is available to
    sponsor liberty in the Middle East but America? Certainly the
    Europeans themselves have not done a very distinguished job defending
    freedom close to home.

    During the cold war, while most Western Europeans tacitly accepted the
    division of their continent, American presidents stood up and called
    for the walls to come tumbling down. When an anonymous graffiti artist
    in Berlin sprayed the wall with a message -- ''This wall will fall.
    Beliefs become reality'' -- it was President Reagan, not a European
    politician, who seized on those words and declared that the wall
    ''cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot
    withstand freedom.''

    This is why much of the European support for Bush in Iraq came from
    the people who had grown up behind that wall. It wasn't just the
    promise of bases and money and strategic partnerships that tipped
    Poles, Romanians, Czechs and Hungarians into sending troops; it was
    the memory that when the chips were down, in the dying years of Soviet
    tyranny, American presidents were there, and Western European
    politicians looked the other way.

    It is true that Western Europe has had a democracy-promotion project
    of its own since the wall came down: bringing the fledgling regimes of
    Eastern Europe into the brave new world of the European Union. This
    very real achievement has now been delayed by the ''no'' votes in
    France and the Netherlands. Sponsoring the promotion of democracy in
    the East and preparing an Islamic giant, Turkey, for a later entry is
    precisely what the referendum votes want to stop. So who will be there
    to prevent Islamic fundamentalism or military authoritarianism
    breaking through in Turkey now that the Europeans have told the Turks
    to remain in the waiting room forever? If democracy within requires
    patrons without, the only patron left is the United States.
    While Americans characteristically oversell and exaggerate the world's
    desire to live as they do, it is actually reasonable to suppose, as
    Americans believe, that most human beings, if given the chance, would
    like to rule themselves. It is not imperialistic to believe this. It
    might even be condescending to believe anything else.

    If Europeans are embarrassed to admit this universal yearning or to
    assist it, Americans have difficulty understanding that there are many
    different forms that this yearning can take, Islamic democracy among
    them. Democracy may be a universal value, but democracies differ --
    mightily -- on ultimate questions. One reason the American promotion
    of democracy conjures up so little support from other democrats is
    that American democracy, once a model to emulate, has become an
    exception to avoid.

    Consider America's neighbor to the north. Canadians look south and ask
    themselves why access to health care remains a privilege of income in
    the United States and not a right of citizenship. They like hunting
    and shooting, but can't understand why anyone would regard a right to
    bear arms as a constitutional right. They can't understand why the
    American love of limited government does not extend to a ban on the
    government's ultimate power -- capital punishment. The Canadian
    government seems poised to extend full marriage rights to gays.

    Some American liberals wistfully wish their own country were more like
    Canada, while for American conservatives, ''Soviet Canuckistan'' -- as
    Pat Buchanan calls it -- is the liberal hell they are seeking to
    avoid. But if American liberals can't persuade their own society to be
    more like other democracies and American conservatives don't want to,
    both of them are acknowledging, the first with sorrow, the other with
    joy, that America is an exception.

    This is not how it used to be. From the era of F.D.R. to the era of
    John Kennedy, liberal and progressive foreigners used to look to
    America for inspiration. For conservatives like Margaret Thatcher,
    Ronald Reagan was a lodestar. The grand boulevards in foreign capitals
    were once named after these large figures of American legend. For a
    complex set of reasons, American democracy has ceased to be the
    inspiration it was. This is partly because of the religious turn in
    American conservatism, which awakens incomprehension in the largely
    secular politics of America's democratic allies. It is partly because
    of the chaos of the contested presidential election in 2000, which
    left the impression, worldwide, that closure had been achieved at the
    expense of justice. And partly because of the phenomenal influence of
    money on American elections.

    But the differences between America and its democratic allies run
    deeper than that. When American policy makers occasionally muse out
    loud about creating a ''community of democracies'' to become a kind of
    alternative to the United Nations, they forget that America and its
    democratic friends continue to disagree about what fundamental rights
    a democracy should protect and the limits to power government should
    observe. As Europeans and Canadians head leftward on issues like gay
    marriage, capital punishment and abortion, and as American politics
    head rightward, the possibility of America leading in the promotion of
    a common core of beliefs recedes ever further. Hence the paradox of
    Jefferson's dream: American liberty as a moral universal seems less
    and less recognizable to the very democracies once inspired by that
    dream. In the cold war, America was accepted as the leader of ''the
    free world.'' The free world -- the West -- has fractured, leaving a
    fierce and growing argument about democracy in its place.
    The fact that many foreigners do not happen to buy into the American
    version of promoting democracy may not be much of a surprise. What is
    significant is how many American liberals don't share the vision,

    On this issue, there has been a huge reversal of roles in American
    politics. Once upon a time, liberal Democrats were the custodians of
    the Jeffersonian message that American democracy should be exported to
    the world, and conservative Republicans were its realist opponents.
    Beginning in the late 1940's, as the political commentator Peter
    Beinart has rediscovered, liberals like Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur
    Schlesinger Jr. and Adlai Stevenson realized that liberals would have
    to reinvent themselves. This was partly a matter of principle -- they
    detested Soviet tyranny -- and partly a matter of pragmatism. They
    wanted to avoid being tarred as fellow travelers, the fate that had
    met Franklin Roosevelt's former running mate, the radical reformer
    Henry Wallace. The liberals who founded Americans for Democratic
    Action refounded liberalism as an anti-Communist internationalism,
    dedicated to defending freedom and democracy abroad from Communist
    threat. The missionary Jeffersonianism in this reinvention worried
    many people -- for example, George Kennan, the diplomat and
    foreign-policy analyst who argued that containment of the Communist
    menace was all that prudent politics could accomplish.

    The leading Republicans of the 1950's -- Robert Taft, for example --
    were isolationist realists, doubtful that America should impose its
    way on the world. Eisenhower, that wise old veteran of European
    carnage, was in that vein, too: prudent, risk-avoiding, letting the
    Soviets walk into Hungary because he thought war was simply out of the
    question, too horrible to contemplate. In the 1960's and 70's, Richard
    Nixon and Henry Kissinger remained in the realist mode. Since
    stability mattered more to them than freedom, they propped up the shah
    of Iran, despite his odious secret police, and helped to depose
    Salvador Allende in Chile. Kissinger's guiding star was not Jefferson
    but Bismarck. Kissinger contended that people who wanted freedom and
    democracy in Eastern Europe were lamentable sentimentalists, unable to
    look at the map and accommodate themselves to the eternal reality of
    Soviet power.

    It was Reagan who began the realignment of American politics, making
    the Republicans into internationalist Jeffersonians with his speech in
    London at the Palace of Westminster in 1982, which led to the creation
    of the National Endowment for Democracy and the emergence of democracy
    promotion as a central goal of United States foreign policy. At the
    time, many conservative realists argued for detente, risk avoidance
    and placation of the Soviet bear. Faced with the Republican embrace of
    Jeffersonian ambitions for America abroad, liberals chose retreat or
    scorn. Bill Clinton -- who took reluctant risks to defend freedom in
    Bosnia and Kosovo -- partly arrested this retreat, yet since his
    administration, the withdrawal of American liberalism from the defense
    and promotion of freedom overseas has been startling. The Michael
    Moore-style left conquered the Democratic Party's heart; now the view
    was that America's only guiding interest overseas was furthering the
    interests of Halliburton and Exxon. The relentless emphasis on the
    hidden role of oil makes the promotion of democracy seem like a
    devious cover or lame excuse. The unseen cost of this pseudo-Marxist
    realism is that it disconnected the Democratic Party from the
    patriotic idealism of the very electorate it sought to persuade.

    John Kerry's presidential campaign could not overcome liberal
    America's fatal incapacity to connect to the common faith of the
    American electorate in the Jeffersonian ideal. Instead he ran as the
    prudent, risk-avoiding realist in 2004 -- despite, or perhaps because
    of, the fact that he had fought in Vietnam. Kerry's caution was bred
    in the Mekong. The danger and death he encountered gave him some good
    reasons to prefer realism to idealism, and risk avoidance to hubris.
    Faced with a rival who proclaimed that freedom was not just America's
    gift to mankind but God's gift to the world, it was understandable
    that Kerry would seek to emphasize how complex reality was, how
    resistant to American purposes it might be and how high the price of
    American dreams could prove. As it turned out, the American electorate
    seemed to know only too well how high the price was in Iraq, and it
    still chose the gambler over the realist. In 2004, the Jefferson dream
    won decisively over American prudence.

    But this is more than just a difference between risk taking and
    prudence. It is also a disagreement about whether American values
    properly deserve to be called universal at all. The contemporary
    liberal attitude toward the promotion of democratic freedom -- we like
    what we have, but we have no right to promote it to others -- sounds
    to many conservative Americans like complacent and timorous
    relativism, timorous because it won't lift a finger to help those who
    want an escape from tyranny, relativist because it seems to have
    abandoned the idea that all people do want to be free. Judging from
    the results of the election in 2004, a majority of Americans do not
    want to be told that Jefferson was wrong.
    A relativist America is properly inconceivable. Leave relativism,
    complexity and realism to other nations. America is the last nation
    left whose citizens don't laugh out loud when their leader asks God to
    bless the country and further its mighty work of freedom. It is the
    last country with a mission, a mandate and a dream, as old as its

    All of this may be dangerous, even delusional, but it is also
    unavoidable. It is impossible to think of America without these
    properties of self-belief.

    Of course, American self-belief is not an eternal quantity. Jefferson
    airily assumed that democracy would be carried on the wings of
    enlightenment, reason and science. No one argues that now. Not even
    Bush. He does speak of liberty as ''the plan of heaven for humanity
    and the best hope for progress here on Earth,'' but in more sober
    moments, he will concede that the promotion of freedom is hard work,
    stretching out for generations and with no certain end in sight.

    The activists, experts and bureaucrats who do the work of promoting
    democracy talk sometimes as if democracy were just a piece of
    technology, like a water pump, that needs only the right installation
    to work in foreign climes. Others suggest that the promotion of
    democracy requires anthropological sensitivity, a deep understanding
    of the infinitely complex board game of foreign (in this case Iraqi)

    But Iraqi freedom also depends on something whose measurement is
    equally complex: what price, in soldiers' bodies and lives, the
    American people are prepared to pay. The members of the American
    public are ceaselessly told that stabilizing Iraq will make them more
    secure. They are told that fighting the terrorists there is better
    than fighting them at home. They are told that victory in Iraq will
    spread democracy and stability in the arc from Algeria to Afghanistan.
    They are told that when this happens, ''they'' won't hate Americans,
    or hate them as much as they do now. It's hard to know what the
    American people believe about these claims, but one vital test of
    whether the claims are believed is the number of adolescent men and
    women prepared to show up at the recruiting posts in the suburban
    shopping malls and how many already in the service or Guard choose to
    re-enlist and sign up for another tour in Ramadi or Falluja. The
    current word is that recruitment is down, and this is a serious sign
    that someone at least thinks America is paying too high a price for
    its ideals.

    Of all human activities, fighting for your country is the one that
    requires most elaborate justification. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once
    said that ''to fight out a war, you must believe something and want
    something with all your might.'' He had survived Antietam and the
    annihilating horror of the Battle of the Wilderness, so he knew of
    what he spoke. The test that Jefferson's dream has to pass is whether
    it gives members of a new generation something they want to fight for
    with all their might.

    Two years from now is the earliest any senior United States commander
    says that Americans can begin to come home from Iraq in any
    significant numbers. Already the steady drip of casualties is the
    faintly heard, offstage noise of contemporary American politics. As
    this noise grows louder, it may soon drown out everything else.
    Flag-draped caskets are slid down the ramps of cargo planes at Dover
    Air Force Base and readied for their last ride home to the graveyards
    of America. In some region of every American's mind, those caskets
    raise a simple question: Is Iraqi freedom worth this?

    It would be a noble thing if one day 26 million Iraqis could live
    their lives without fear in a country of their own. But it would also
    have been a noble dream if the South Vietnamese had been able to
    resist the armored divisions of North Vietnam and to maintain such
    freedom as they had. Lyndon Johnson said the reason Americans were
    there was the ''principle for which our ancestors fought in the
    valleys of Pennsylvania,'' the right of people to choose their own
    path to change. Noble dream or not, the price turned out to be just
    too high.

    There is nothing worse than believing your son or daughter, brother or
    sister, father or mother died in vain. Even those who have opposed the
    Iraq war all along, who believe that the hope of planting democracy
    has lured America into a criminal folly, do not want to tell those who
    have died that they have given their lives for nothing. This is where
    Jefferson's dream must work. Its ultimate task in American life is to
    redeem loss, to rescue sacrifice from oblivion and futility and to
    give it shining purpose. The real truth about Iraq is that we just
    don't know -- yet -- whether the dream will do its work this time.
    This is the somber question that hangs unanswered as Americans
    approach this Fourth of July.

    Michael Ignatieff, a contributing writer, is the Carr professor of
    human rights at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He is the
    editor of the forthcoming book ''American Exceptionalism and Human

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