Former Attorney General John Ashcroft threw a core principle of Bush-era foreign policy under the bus Tuesday night, when he said that democracy is not the core American value, liberty is.
Speaking to a packed house at the first night of the inaugural In Defense of Christians summit in Washington, D.C., Ashcroft said that “I sometimes think that in the U.S. we have misplaced our core values,” particularly when it comes to foreign policy. “We seem to think democracy is the ultimate value… It’s not the ultimate value. Liberty is, the value with which God endowed us at creation.”
In Defense of Christians is a recently-founded non-profit “whose mission is to heighten awareness among policymakers and the general public of the existence of ancient and often persecuted minority communities in the Middle East, particularly Christians.”
Their first summit, which began on Tuesday, has attracted over 1200 attendees, including nearly a dozen Christian patriarchs and bishops from across the world.
“There are people around the world painfully aware of democratic communities that withdraw and constrain liberty,” he continued. “The core value ought to be liberty and freedom. Democracy is a process, liberty is an outcome. Democracy is a way of developing governance, liberty is the product — the value that’s expressed by good governance.”
The Bush administration, which Ashcroft served as Attorney General from 2001 to 2005, has increasingly come under fire in recent years for its firm belief in democratic peace theory — the notion that democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with one another.
“Democracy and the hope and progress it brings are the alternative to instability and to hatred and terror,” President George Bush said in 2003. “Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance.”
As Foreign Affairs pointed out in 2005, both his father and his predecessor made appeals to the idea as well, but the Bush administration went “much further in its faith in the idea, betting the farm that the theory holds and will help Washington achieve a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Muslim world… The United States’ real motives for attacking Iraq may have been complex, but ‘regime change’–the replacement of Saddam Hussein’s gruesome tyranny with a democracy — was central to Washington’s rhetoric by the time it began bombing Baghdad in March 2003.”
As President Bush articulated in his 2005 inaugural address, “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world.”
Nearly ten years later, his attorney general is finally admitting that democracy isn’t enough. It is “time for us to stop sanctioning and supporting and endowing cultures & communities that use democracy to constrict freedom,” he said. “My prayer goes out to those who are suffering in the absence of liberty.”
Ashcroft, himself a Pentecostal, also praised IDC for bringing together Christians from many churches throughout the world. “God is the creator of diversity, but he doesn’t expect that diversity to separate us,” he said. “It can be a basis for uniting us… We don’t have to be uniform in order to have unity.”
“Governments don’t grant us liberty, God endowed us with liberty at the creation. … It almost stuns me that there are people who want to impose religion on others,” he said, referring to ISIS’s brutal adherence to conversion by the sword. “Faith isn’t the stuff of imposition, but inspiration.”
“As a public servant I was frequently asked whether I wanted to impose religion. I was pleased to say it’s against my religion to impose my religion.”