Don’t miss this speech by the first Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, on receipt of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service: The Global War Against Terror Can Be Won. A transcript of the speech is available as a PDF.
There is much wisdom in this address. One small example shows the grasp of the limitations of the American political system:
The administration has set out to spread democracy in the Middle East. In the long run democracy can prevail, but the process will not be easy. Given the US constitutional framework of mid-term elections every 2 years and Presidential elections every 4 years, it is not realistic to expect any American administration to stay long enough in Iraq for democracy to take root.
Later, on Iraq and Vietnam:
…The conventional wisdom in the media now is that the war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. Conventional wisdom in the 1970s assumed that the war in Vietnam was similarly an unmitigated disaster. It has been proved wrong. It bought the time and created the conditions that enabled non-communist East Asia to follow Japanâ€™s path and develop into the four dragons (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore), followed by the four tigers (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines). Time brought about the split between the Soviet Union and China, and that led to China attacking Vietnam when it attacked Cambodia and thus broke the domino effect of communist victory in Vietnam. The four dragons and four tigers in turn changed both communist China and Vietnam into open market economies and made them freer societies. If the unexpected developments of war in Iraq are addressed in a resolute, not a defeatist manner, conventional wisdom, now pessimistic, will again be proved wrong. A stabilised Iraq, less repressive, with its different ethnic and religious communities accepting each other in some devoluted framework, can be a liberating influence in the Middle East.
You may wonder why I am so focused on the Middle East. My first close interaction with America was when she was involved in a painful struggle in Vietnam. I was invited to Washington in 1967 because an Assistant Secretary of State had been reading my speeches when I warned my neighbours that the Americans wonâ€™t be there forever and we had better put our houses in order. He thought the message should be said in Washington and New York. I benefited from that visit. I got to know America, spent a term in Harvard, got to know of American multi-nationals. That led the blossoming of the Singapore economy. 40 years later I am invited to this august institution to receive your accolades at a time you are similarly in a dilemma, how to find an honourable exit from something the US had not expected. Once you are in, you have to see the problem through so that you will not do yourselves and the world irreparable damage.
Whoever wins the midterm elections, or the next Presidential elections in 2008 will face a very different world. By then, you will have not just Iraq but also Iran to contend with. It will not be an easy world to live in. It could be a seminal event like the collapse of the Soviet Union because a change in the power balance in the Gulf, and with oil at stake, the future of the world will take a different course. I hope you will understand why I chose to encourage Americans to take a more positive and optimistic view of the future.