Six years have passed since the terrorist attacks on the US that shook the world. They didn't change the world, mind you, as mass murder of civilians wasn't born on that day. But six long years and two major wars later, we have had time to ponder what it is that leads individuals to commit mass murder to achieve their political objectives.
Judging from the comments emanating from the "free world," however, it would seem that these six years of introspection have been in vain, for aside from the continued martial discourse we have been fed since Sept. 11, 2001, much of everything else the leaders in the West have said has been little more than uninspired hot air.
True, the "D word" continues to be bandied about, like some circus oddity plucked out of a hat whenever doing so is convenient. But so overused, exploited and overstretched has the concept become that the word has lost much of its meaning.
One occurrence illustrates this perfectly -- an instance of so much hot air that it must have contributed to global warming. (Coincidentally, it comes the same week scientists announced that the Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate.)
During a speech at the APEC summit in Sydney on Thursday, US President George W. Bush lauded the democratic achievements in the Asia-Pacific region and proposed the creation of an "Asia-Pacific Democracy Partnership," the vagueness of whose objectives could only be surpassed by the triteness of the statement itself.
The last thing the region needs is another institution. What democracy needs isn't a new layer to the onion, but rather leaders who are ready to use the term without the underhanded purposes of master cynics. Tellingly, as he expounded the virtues of this new body, Bush could not even say whether Taiwan -- part of the "bedrock of America's engagement in the region" -- would be part of it.
We wouldn't bet a cup of tea on it. Rather, Beijing would do what Beijing does and through blackmail, threats and manipulation would force the spineless "free world" to exclude -- quite undemocratically -- one of the most vibrant democracies in the region. And no one would object.
It is easy to accuse Bush of democratic turpitude, but other beacons of democracy need not pop open the self-congratulatory champagne yet, for critics alike -- Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Canada and the others -- have all been absentee landlords when it comes to standing up for their principles. Their leaders have all used the D word in a variety of guises, but their inaction has travestied it beyond recognition. So hold the Bush bashing, for the truth is there is no leader of the "free world," and creating a new institution certainly won't fix the problem.
The global intelligence community reacted to Sept. 11 by reorganizing itself and creating new agencies. But doing so didn't "fix" intelligence gaps, and many observers today would argue that six years on, the world is none the safer. Creating new bodies only serves one purpose: It gives the impression that we're doing something. As long as agencies refuse to look at a problem with honesty and fail to talk to each other, all those new buildings in the alphabet soup of counterterrorism will serve no purpose other than to add to the complexity of an already labyrinthine flow chart.
The same applies to democracy. What the Asia-Pacific region needs is inclusiveness where there has been discrimination; honesty in lieu of cynicism. It needs world leaders who understand that myopic support for undemocratic regimes, from the Taliban before Sept. 11 to Beijing today, can only give rise to problems in the not-so-distant future.
Bring Taiwan and other repressed democratic voices into existing forums, and then we'll take your discourse on democracy more seriously, Mr. Bush.
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