Admittedly that’s a little bit of wisdom I picked up from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, but it’s become one of my favorites.
So, reader Stetz pointed me toward an article from the Economist that, as far as I know, is the first serious attempt to claim that Bush’s whole “democracy in the Middle East” crusade was not only right, but coming to fruition. It’s a great example of starting with a conclusion and digging around for ways to support it, so come with me for a quick journey.
Mr Bush was indeed a far more active champion of democracy than Mr Obama has been. In 2005 his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, gave a startling speech in Cairo in which she said that having spent 60 years pursuing stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East, and achieving neither, America was henceforth supporting the democratic aspirations of all people. True to its word, the Bush administration nagged, scolded, bribed and bullied its allies towards greater democracy. The Americans leant on Egypt to hold more open elections in 2005, and in 2006 they talked an astonished Israel into letting Hamas contest Palestinian elections in the occupied territories. Even the Saudis were prevailed on to hold some (men only) local elections. All this was based on a particular theory, the post-9/11 neoconservative conclusion that the root cause of terrorism was the absence of Arab democracy. “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” said Mr Bush.
This is basically the crux of the issue, that Bush’s negotiations in the Middle East were part of a starry-eyed ideology in which freedom and democracy were held paramount above all else. The problem is, it’s complete and utter bullshit.
Yes, it’s true that Bush fought for Democracy here and there, and certainly shook his finger at Iran and the Koreans, but to pretend that he in any way was fighting for transparency in dictatorships as a whole is idiotic. He centered his fight on pushing for a small number of democracies in the Middle East, and then it was only against countries that were antagonistic toward the United States. There’s a reason that the Saudis are still a brutal theocracy, and why we sent prisoners into Uzbekistan to be boiled: they’re friends of ours. If you’re a dictatorship, and your dictator plays ball with the USA, then we have no beef with you.
Furthermore, it’s all Middle East focused. What about North Korea? Vietnam? The entire effing continent of Africa? South America? The country is littered with brutal dictatorships and oppressed people, and yet Bush decided to focus his entire strategy on Saddam Hussein. Back in 2003 Parade listed the ten worst dictators. Count how many the United States has gone after (hint: one). Even Egypt was an ally of the USA until this all blew up, despite Mubarak being pretty much considered a despot for ages now.
Why revisit this history now? Because with people-power bursting out all over the Arab world, the experts who scoffed at Mr Bush for thinking that Arabs wanted and were ready for democracy on the Western model are suddenly looking less clever—and Mr Bush’s simple and rather wonderful notion that Arabs want, deserve and are capable of democracy is looking rather wise. In pursuit of this simple idea he was willing, up to a point, to discombobulate long-standing American allies whose autocratic behaviour at home America had long forgiven or overlooked in the interests of realpolitik.
With all due respect, fuck you article-writer-guy. No one seriously suggested that Arabs didn’t want democracy. A few did, but even that was largely because it was believed that their generations of oppression had left them institutionalized. What critics were scoffing at was the notion that the United States had the obligation, nay the right, to storm into dictatorships and oppressed nations worldwide and foist democracy upon them. What Egypt is showing us is that it’s internal revolution that we should support, not external pseudo-liberation.
Now, the author doesn’t entirely attempt to vindicate Bush, but even his criticisms ring hollow:
So Mr Bush is vindicated? Not so fast. Yes, those who mocked his belief in the Arab appetite for democracy were wrong; he is to be admired for championing reform and nudging autocrats towards pluralism. But keep things in proportion. The big thing Mr Bush did in the Arab world was not to argue for an election here or a loosening of controls there. It was to send an army to conquer Iraq. Nothing that has happened in Tunisia or Egypt makes the consequences of that decision any less calamitous.
This is a great example of sleight-of-hand. First it assumes that Bush can get any of the credit for Egypt or Tunisia, and then attempts to give the author some credibility-by-way-of-self-awareness by feigning a devil’s advocate argument against his own thesis. The flaw being that his “criticism” is that Bush didn’t enact his grand vision in the proper way, and made missteps in that regard.
What chaps my ass about this, at the core, is that Bush’s rhetoric, as dishonest and ass-covering as it was, has now created a retroactive “toldja so” opportunity if any Middle Eastern nation revolts and reforms. If in 2056 Saudi Arabia has an uprising and dismantles the theocracy, some jackass is going to say it’s proof that Bush was right. He wasn’t right. He didn’t give two shits about democracy.
Which isn’t even to say you can’t defend Bush’s actions in the Middle East. If you want, go into the economic advantages of having control out there, or talk about our security, say that terrorists are scattered rats rather than an organized army thanks to us, but don’t go out there claiming that Bush was fighting for democracy. To Mr Bush and the neocons, democracy was a tool, not the goal. The goal was taking out what they perceived as a threat. There were plenty of them saying to turn Iraq into a parking lot (or bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran). Had any of them seen an easier way to take out Saddam and aid in American interests, they would have. Democracy was just the best way they saw to do it.
Was Bush right? If you believe that his goal was “freedom”, then sure. Sure he was. But that’s like saying that Bush’s goal was “for good things to happen”. It’s vague, misleading, and is what everyone wants. No one is anti-freedom for any peoples. If anything Egypt and Tunisia rebuke Bush’s foreign policy, because they show what happens when the people of a country are ready to change.
I put it this way: the United States happened because citizens of a country were tired of the king’s shit and started a war to get their freedom. When people are ready, we help them. To break down the government before the people are ready, well… watch this.