Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt’s Revolution, Bush’s Victory?

February 11, 2011, 7:43 pm
By TOBIN HARSHAW
The New York Times

The Thread is an in-depth look at how major news and controversies are being debated across the online spectrum.
Tags:

democracy, Egypt, George W. Bush

Who is the hero of the Egyptian revolution? Wael Ghonim? Mohamed ElBaradei? Twitter? The ubiquitous Egyptian man (and woman) in the street?

All good nominees, but there’s one more who’s getting increasing support: George W. Bush. Scoff if you will, but the debate is heating up.

It started with the former State Department official Elliott Abrams at The Washington Post on Jan. 29:

In November 2003, President George W. Bush laid out this question: “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom and never even to have a choice in the matter?”

The massive and violent demonstrations underway in Egypt, the smaller ones in Jordan and Yemen, and the recent revolt in Tunisia that inspired those events, have affirmed that the answer is no and are exploding, once and for all, the myth of Arab exceptionalism … All these developments seem to come as a surprise to the Obama administration, which dismissed Bush’s “freedom agenda” as overly ideological and meant essentially to defend the invasion of Iraq. But as Bush’s support for the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and for a democratic Palestinian state showed, he was defending self-government, not the use of force.

Stephen L. Carter, writing at Newsweek, made the case the Bush and Obama were birds of a feather:

Not long ago, President George W. Bush was considered naive for suggesting that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world should be a staple of American foreign policy. Two years ago, the same charge was whispered against President Barack Obama, when he suggested, in his Cairo address to the Muslim world, that self-government and freedom “are not just American ideas, they are human rights.” True, due to the exigencies of pursuing the nation’s strategic interests, neither man actually pressed very hard for democratization. Still, the more important point is that both were subjected to lectures from experts who insisted that somehow even to speak about democracy and freedom in the Arab lands was to show oneself to be a hopeless romantic, insufficiently hardheaded, out of touch with reality. As of today, that essentially racist assumption is dead.

For Carol A. Taber at American Thinker, Bush’s real soul mate on the issue is Winston Churchill:

President Bush, for all his failings, understood that democracy was about more than institutions. To him, democracy was about human freedom. “The fundamental question,” Bush stated in 2005, “is, do we have the confidence and universal values to help change a troubled part of the world[?] … I believe democracy — the desire to be free — is universal. That’s what I believe. And if you believe that, then you’ve got to act on it. That doesn’t mean militarily. But that means using the influence of the United States to work with others to help — to help freedom spread.”

While Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing on The Times Op-Ed page, went further back in history:

President George W. Bush’s decision to build democracy in Iraq seemed so lame to many people because it appeared, at best, to be another example of American idealism run amok — the forceful implantation of a complex Western idea into infertile authoritarian soil. But Mr. Bush, whose faith in self-government mirrors that of a frontiersman in Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” saw truths that more worldly men missed: the idea of democracy had become a potent force among Muslims, and authoritarianism had become the midwife to Islamic extremism … Mr. Bush’s distastefulness helped to blind Westerners to the momentous marriage of Islamism and democratic ideas.

The left has wrongly distilled President Bush’s emphasis on democracy into emphasis on elections, or on movements free of American influence. Bush rejected both those concepts. For Bush, like Churchill, democracy was a means to enable freedom; the ballot box was not the silver bullet. Also like Churchill, and Reagan for that matter, Bush had no problem whatsoever pushing American-style democracy — that is to say, America-friendly democracy. That is why Bush rejected dealing with the democratically elected Hamas, for example — elections do not validate a terroristic regime. Gaza was not true democracy in action; it was the patina of democracy lightly buttered over a bread of Islamism.

But the argument that has really roiled the left side of the blogosphere was this from Charles Krauthammer: “Today, everyone and his cousin supports the ‘freedom agenda.’ Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers who dared challenge the received wisdom of Arab exceptionalism … Now it seems everyone, even the left, is enthusiastic for Arab democracy. Fine. Fellow travelers are welcome.”

For Krauthammer, however, Bush’s “freedom agenda” is a bit squishy: “We need a foreign policy that not only supports freedom in the abstract but is guided by long-range practical principles to achieve it – a Freedom Doctrine.” It would consist , of these elements:

(1) The United States supports democracy throughout the Middle East. It will use its influence to help democrats everywhere throw off dictatorial rule.

(2) Democracy is more than just elections. It requires a free press, the rule of law, the freedom to organize, the establishment of independent political parties and the peaceful transfer of power. Therefore, the transition to democracy and initial elections must allow time for these institutions, most notably political parties, to establish themselves.

(3) The only U.S. interest in the internal governance of these new democracies is to help protect them against totalitarians, foreign and domestic. The recent Hezbollah coup in Lebanon and the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza dramatically demonstrate how anti-democratic elements that achieve power democratically can destroy the very democracy that empowered them.

(4) Therefore, just as during the Cold War the United States helped keep European communist parties out of power (to see them ultimately wither away), it will be U.S. policy to oppose the inclusion of totalitarian parties – the Muslim Brotherhood or, for that matter, communists – in any government, whether provisional or elected, in newly liberated Arab states.

“Oh, I see,” responds Steve Benen, the Political Animal. “The ‘freedom agenda,’ intended to ‘ensure democracy’ comes with fine print, imposed on foreign countries by the U.S., shaped by Charles Krauthammer’s worldview.”

Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal argues that the fourth caveat will ensure that same-old foreign policy:

If we embrace democracy for the Arab world then we must embrace all parties that are willing to play by democratic rules – and that includes the Islamists. Our fear of Islamic political movements has led the United States, for years, to support authoritarian and dictatorial regimes – like Hosni Mubarak’s – with predictably disastrous results. And contrary to Krauthammer’s crowing for the Freedom Agenda, George Bush was guilty of the same crime, particularly in regard to Egypt where he backed away from calls for democracy when the US government decided we needed an un-democratic Mubarak more than an actual democratic process.

We can’t have it both ways – we can’t support democracy and then reject political Islam. So long as Islamist groups are willing to abide by the tenets of democracy and participate in free and fair elections we should welcome their inclusion. To do otherwise . . . well it wouldn’t be democratic.

The first Krauthammer caveat is the sticking point for Daniel Larison of The American Conservative:

If the U.S. actually were in a “long, twilight struggle” with Iran and its allies, Krauthammer’s first principle would guarantee that the U.S. would end up with virtually no allies anywhere in the region in fairly short order. This is not because those governments would be taken over by forces sympathetic to Iran or by “totalitarian” forces following democratization, but because even properly functioning democracies in these countries would have no interest in serving as America’s front-line states in a regional contest with Iran. I can’t say that I blame them. Our Iran policy is irrational, and it is based in a wildly exaggerated fear of what Iran is capable of doing. Western Europe was at risk of being dominated or conquered by the Soviet Union, and other anti-Soviet allies were at risk of being overthrown or invaded by Soviet-backed forces, so their self-interest dictated allying themselves in defensive pacts with the U.S. Little of this applies to the countries Krauthammer is talking about here.

“ ‘Every instrument available’ is a nicely airy way of putting it, and Krauthammer does a deft little shimmy to get from talking about how the Truman Doctrine worked in ‘allies at the periphery, such as Greece and Turkey,’ to talking about the practice of anticommunism in the more robust and central European democracies,” adds Slate’s Tom Scocca. Then he turns up the snark:

As it happened, the way it did work on the periphery was that we encouraged our allies to outlaw the Communist Party, then to smash the Communists for being outlaws. In Greece, that eventually meant supporting a military coup and a right-wing junta, a dictatorship that ran on torture. This was necessary, you see, because anything—terror, torture, military crackdowns—was better than allowing Communist influence to spread. The Communists were a pernicious, totalitarian, foreign-influenced movement, in thrall to the monstrous Soviet regime …

The trouble with Krauthammer’s plan to do the Egyptians like we used to do the Greeks—besides that it’s corrupt, evil, and counterproductive—is that we already did it. That’s what just got overthrown.

Indeed, there are lessons to be learned from mistakes in the past, and there is no justification for such horrors. But do we really now mock anyone who thinks the Communist movement — the one that sang, “the Internationale/will be the human race” — was “foreign-influenced”? Is it now considered gauche, in some circles, to say that the Soviet regime was “monstrous”? I think there are quite a few Eastern Europeans who would argue otherwise, and maybe an Egyptian or two who could relate to them.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home