A Democracy Deferred
Since Egyptians erupted in revolution and ousted their autocratic leader President Hosni Mubarak, there’s been much talk from conservatives about George W. Bush. According to some right-wingers, the protests currently spreading throughout the Middle East are proving that Bush was right.
One quote in particular keeps creeping up. It’s something Bush said in 2003, during a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
“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 have a choice in the matter?”
By quoting these apparently prophetic questions, the neoconservatives are arguing that Bush’s approach to foreign policy was well-intentioned. They say that the “Bush Doctrine” — which was focused on promoting democracy and launching “preemptive strikes” against enemies — was instrumental in the spread of self-government.
In that same speech from 2003, Bush also mentioned Egypt:
“The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way towards democracy in the Middle East.”
No wonder the neocons chose to omit that quote — it shows that Bush was wrong, at least on one count.
Yet they’ve all mentioned Palestine as the perfect example of Bush’s laudability. Bush openly supported the free and fair elections that took place there in 2006, but when an Islamist political party won Bush refused to recognize the new government.
“Elections do not validate a terroristic regime,” wrote Carol A. Taber at the American Thinker. “Gaza was not true democracy in action; it was the patina of democracy lightly buttered over a bread of Islamism.”
Thus the Bush Doctrine’s hypocrisy: we support democracy, as long as our people win. Hamas, the Islamist party that was elected, may be extremist, but it did win those elections — just as the Muslim Brotherhood may win the first elections in Egypt.
Charles Krauthammer, who is credited with coining the phrase the “Bush Doctrine,” laid out his own foreign policy plan in the Washington Post. One of his points:
“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.”
Evidently, the neocons are all about spreading freedom — as long as Islam isn’t involved. Isn’t that a bit antithetical to democracy? True, Islam has yet to succeed in a democratic atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean it can’t. And it doesn’t mean we should intercede when democratic elections result in Islamic leadership.
One of the conservatives’ greatest examples of the Bush Doctrine’s good intent is Iraq. But when the Bush administration invaded Iraq, it said nothing about “spreading democracy.” It said that we were going in there because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction — something that we now know was a complete farce.
But apparently, we should be grateful.
“It is no coincidence that of all the countries now staring at popular rebellions, Iraq isn’t on the list,” wrote Taber. “Will President Bush be thanked for that?”
Maybe Bush meant well when he invaded Iraq; maybe he wanted to overthrow Saddam and bring democracy to that country. But there’s a time and place.
The Egyptian revolution appears to have gone so well because the Egyptians were the ones who started it — not an overbearing outside force. About a week before Mubarak stepped down, his vice president said Egyptians weren’t “ready for democracy.” But it seems they were. When an entire population protests for democracy, it’s probably ready for democracy.
That quote should be applied to Iraq. Revolutions are successful because rage and injustice quietly build up under an oppressive regime until, finally, the population explodes. That is what happened in Egypt. That is what may have happened in Iraq if we hadn’t interfered and expedited the overthrow of Saddam.
When we see the hardships that people face in these countries under oppressive governments, it’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t get involved. Of course these people would benefit from freedom. But they need to bring it upon themselves.
Protests are currently erupting throughout the Middle East and North Africa. And whatever governments end up being formed — be they Islamic, or even communist — we should let them be. Democracy can’t be forced. When we interfere with the democratic struggles of others and get involved with their elections, we undermine the meaning of democracy itself.