February 7, 2011
What Obama Should Learn From Bush on Egypt
Historically, the only kind of Middle Eastern democracies Democrats like are the ones that are anti-American.
When George W. Bush forcibly established democracy in Iraq by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the left called him imperialist, dictatorial, and evil. They began to cheer Iraqi democracy only when President Obama began to pull out troops as Iran began flexing its power in the area. When the Iranian people protested for democracy and were shot in the street for their trouble, the left yawned and even celebrated President Obama's inaction as statesmanship. Meanwhile, the left cheers Turkish democracy despite the fact that current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is an ardent Islamist; they cheer democracy in Gaza despite the fact that the people elected the terrorist group Hamas to lead them.
Now they cheer Egyptian democracy, which will likely result in the removal of an American ally, Hosni Mubarak, in favor of a Muslim Brotherhood-infused government allied with Iran and Syria. They cheer Palestinian protesters who seek to topple the Jordanian ruling family in favor of yet another radicalized anti-Israel regime.
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."
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.
The left and the Obama administration in particular are currently being dragged kicking and screaming toward the Bush position. Historically, the left ignored freedom movements in the Middle East; the feminists ignored the honor killings tolerated by Islamic regimes; the civil rights organizations ignored their racism and anti-Semitism; the fiscal liberals ignored their corruption. The left then reacted with shamefaced guilt each time a revolution sprang upon them -- in Iran, most prominently, Democrats dumped the shah, abashed at their previous inattention to human rights abuses, then allowed the protesters to do whatever they wanted, up to and including enshrining the mullahs.
Now, the left may be learning its lesson. Egypt has followed the Iranian pattern -- seemingly spontaneous revolution, opposed at first by the United States, then celebrated as its inevitability grew. As with Iran, the left has embraced a do-nothingism that promotes the elevation of America's enemies.
Now, however, it appears that the Obama administration is trying to get out in front of these movements the way Bush suggested. This week, Hillary Clinton encouraged all Middle Eastern dictators to grant their people new rights and freedoms, promoting democracy (this just days after Joe Biden insisted that Mubarak was not a dictator and essentially opposed the building revolution).
Unfortunately, the left is still behind the times when it comes to the actual Bush Doctrine. They misinterpret it -- "Bush wanted only democratic institutions" -- and forget Bush's call for freedom and democracy to act in unison. Hence, the left wants to grant full status to Hamas, to the Muslim Brotherhood, to anyone with popular appeal. They don't understand that true democracy is not a set of institutions, but a mindset that comes with strings attached.
Nonetheless, the Obama administration is trying to get it right now. They have a long way to go. They could start by correctly interpreting the Bush Doctrine and thanking Bush for handing its legacy to them. While the press suggests that a self-immolating Tunisian vegetable seller triggered the nascent revolutions in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, and Yemen, would those revolutions have been remotely imaginable, let alone gotten off the ground, without nearly a decade of Bush-promoted freedom in the Middle East? After all, it was President Bush who, in 2003, asked of a global audience, "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 left-wing partisans in America tried to shout down and even ridicule the president, but clearly, his words resonated in the Middle East.
It is no coincidence that of all the countries now staring at popular rebellions, Iraq isn't on the list. Will President Bush be thanked for that? It is clear that the move towards democracy and greater freedoms in the Middle East is the Bush legacy.
The next step for the Obama administration is to recognize that these revolutions are a first step, not a last step. America's influence cannot and should not end when dictators fall. That's when our involvement should begin.
Until now, the leftist strategy has been to ignore the Middle East completely, except to criticize Republican interventionism and strategy of influence to move that part of the world toward freedom and democracy. Their muddled, uncertain reaction to the Egypt situation demonstrates that their reactive naysaying isn't a policy at all -- it's a recipe for inaction and confusion. And it shows.
We can only hope that the Obama administration will wise up now that they have the power to help transform the Middle East into either a hotbed of Islamic radicalism or the first flourishing of true freedom in the desert sand. And if they happen to stumble upon the latter, we hope they have the decency to thank the right person. I know he'll be one of the first to thank them.
Carol A. Taber is president of FamilySecurityMatters.org.