I'd hoped we were past this by now.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bush cast the stakes in stark terms, repeatedly invoking his desire to spread freedom and democracy, the central themes of his foreign policy. Those themes are hardly new to American presidents. Woodrow Wilson talked about making the world safe for democracy, while Ronald Reagan warned that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
But Mr. Bush, most experts agree, has taken the American freedom agenda to an entirely new level, by trying to foster democracy in nations that have not known it before, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Some historians have called it folly, and Mr. Bush conceded in an interview with conservative commentators last year that his critics believe he is “hopelessly idealistic.” (emphasis added)
The very idea that there’s a genuine “American freedom agenda” is rather foolish, and the notion that “experts agree” that Bush has taken democracy promotion “to an entirely new level” may come directly from White House talking points, but that doesn’t make it true.
The NYT article makes it sound as if in this speech to the Religious Broadcasters' Convention the war in Afghanistan was in some way related to spreading democracy. As I recall, we invaded the country and overthrew the Taliban because it protected al Qaeda and helped sponsor the 9/11 attacks.
As for Iraq, after the president’s rationale(s) for the war in Iraq fell apart, the White House crafted a post-hoc rationalization for the invasion — the United States was committed, above all else, to spreading democracies and toppling dictators across the globe. He didn’t mention any of this before the war, but only because he was really busy. Or something.
It was always a dubious proposition, more politically convenient than ideologically heartfelt. Indeed, for all of the president’s talk about democracy being “God’s gift to humanity,” there’s no evidence Bush takes his own principles seriously at all.