is out, liberty is in, and with the recent uprisings in Egypt and
throughout the Arab world the media are hoisting up former President
George W. Bush as the retrospective hero of democracy for what is
turning out to be an effective "freedom agenda."
In a column published on February 3, 2011 -- titled "Was George Bush right?" -- The Economist gave
a balanced overview of the conservative spin being applied to the
people's backlash in Africa and throughout the Middle East:
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 simply and rather wonderful notion that
Arabs want, deserve and are capable of democracy is looking rather wise.
is, simply put, a severely exaggerated, self-aggrandizing example of
the political butterfly effect. Though we may believe that America is
the beautiful epicenter from which all international reverberations of
freedom and culture and wealth and greatness commence, it is also a
rather shallow, ethnocentric interpretation of causality.
we honestly take even partial responsibility for the Egyptian people's
uprising on the basis that our president invaded Afghanistan and dumped
trillions of dollars into a 10-year mission of wandering the hillsides
and peaking into caves in a fruitless search for the 9/11 mastermind? Are
we the bricklayers of this new foundation of liberty because Bush took
America to war in Iraq on the pretense of some imminent nuclear threat
that eventually proved utterly false?
that is true, then the opposite could be argued just as easily – that
Bush's vacancy of the White House gave Arabs the go-ahead to fight for
democracy without having to fear that the U.S. military would flatten
their cities, control their borders, manage their natural resources, and
play puppet master with their "democratically elected" officials.
Bush never called on the people to overthrow corrupt regimes. He did it for them or he did nothing, as The Economist noted when it contextualized the media's recent attempts to vindicate the former president:
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... (Bush) wanted Arab democracy on the cheap. That is to say, he wanted
Arab leaders to empower their people but at the same time to protect
America's strategic interests. That put a limit on how far he dared to
push the reliable old autocrats. And, knowing this, the reliable old
autocrats thought all they needed to do to stay safely on their perches
was to wait Mr Bush out.
course, no praise of Bush would be complete without a fair and balanced
critique of President Barack Obama. Highlighting the criticism of Obama's failure to double-down on Bush's "freedom agenda" and his "lack of presumption" in foreign meddling, The Economist cited
Obama's 2009 Cairo speech as proof of this administration's "diffidence" when it comes to international diplomacy. I provide a
significantly larger chunk of Obama's speech than was quoted in The Economist:
I know there has been controversy about the promotion
of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected
to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or
should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my
commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.
Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in
the traditions of its own people.
America does not presume to know what is best for everyone,
just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful
election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for
certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you
are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal
administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't
steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not
just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will
support them everywhere.
Okay, so Obama is a pacifist, perhaps even a neo-isolationist – on top of the usual criticisms spewed daily by the Republican sound machine (socialist, Communist, anti-colonialist, ististist...). But if we're competing for who can best swindle the masses into buying a series of baseless assertions about which president has done more to usher in a new era of international peace, one could brainstorm plenty of logical reasons why Obama, not Bush, is responsible for the recent removal of an Egyptian dictator
For one, Egypt made no progress through eight years of Bush's "war on terror," and yet only a year and a half after Obama told the Egyptians to stand up for themselves, they did.
Second, while Bush half-assed lobbied the leaders of Arab nations to maybe, if they had some free time, perhaps start thinking about thinking about representing the people, it was Obama who spoke not to the comfortable dictators but to the oppressed people themselves. He threw the ball in their court, essentially saying, "We're not your liberators. You must decide how your government represents you. The United States will not jump into another international quagmire only to be abandoned by allies, rebuked by the world and bankrupted by war, again. America fought for her freedom and independence. So must you, if that is your wish."
The truth, I believe, is somewhere in between. Neither Bush nor Obama is to blame or thank for having any more than a peripheral influence on the uprising in Egypt. America is but an example of how it is possible to establish a government that is of, by, and for the people. The Egyptian people are now fighting, and dying, for that dream. If it is achieved, it will be because the Egyptian people acted.
Credit is due them, not us.
Labels: Barack Obama, Egypt, George W. Bush, Hosni Mubarak, news media, pro-democracy movements, The Economist, U.S. foreign policy, war on terror