Middle East

Kagan on the Bush Democracy Promotion Legacy

In his monthly column for the Post today, Robert Kagan raises a truly important foreign policy issue which requires greater discussion - the role of democracy promotion.   He makes an argument I agree with wholeheartedly - that Bush never seriously pursued a "freedom" agenda.   He writes:

Yet there is another area where the administration claims to depart from the Bush legacy but really hasn't, and I wish that it would. That is the issue of democracy and human rights. Ever since Clinton's confirmation hearing, where she talked about three D's -- defense, diplomacy and development -- but not a fourth -- democracy -- the press has made much of this allegedly sharp departure from the Bush administration's "freedom agenda." (Vice President Biden's prominent remarks about the fourth D in Munich last month have been ignored because they didn't fit the storyline.) Thus the Times's Peter Baker writes that "Obama appears poised to return to a more traditional American policy of dealing with the world as it is rather than as it might be." Set aside what a funny sentence that is to anyone with even scant knowledge of American history and its traditions -- remember Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton? The more interesting question is whether the Bush administration ever seriously pursued a "freedom agenda."

As my Carnegie colleague and preeminent democracy expert Thomas Carothers points out, the idea that the Bush administration engaged in a massive effort to promote democracy around the world is mostly myth. While every U.S. president for the past three decades has engaged in some degree of democracy promotion, he writes, "the place of democracy in Bush foreign policy was no greater, and in some ways was less, than in the foreign policies of his predecessors." It did provide important support to struggling democracies in Ukraine, Georgia and Lebanon. But Bush ignored the systematic dismantling of democracy in Russia. Like Secretary Clinton, he did not let human rights get in the way of dealing with China. The Bush administration supported Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf until the bitter end. It backed away from challenging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hold freer and fairer elections in 2005, and whatever ardor it had about pushing for democracy in the Middle East cooled significantly after the 2006 election of Hamas. Meanwhile, it worked closely with dictators in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Aside from Iraq and Afghanistan, where its stalwart support for democratic progress was undermined for many years by failed military strategy, it is hard to point to many places where the "freedom agenda" was ever seriously implemented.

The world would be a better and safer place if the Bush administration's policies had more closely matched its rhetoric. But in any case, as Carothers notes, the idea that "a major post-Bush realist corrective is needed represents a serious misreading of the past eight years." It would be ironic, to say the least, if in its desire to distinguish itself from Bush on this issue, the Obama administration wound up replicating Bush. Viva la revolución!

I couldn't agree with this sentiment more, and have written often about how what limited efforts the Bush team placed on "democracy promotion" was done in a way that grossly misinterpreted the formula America had tried to export since the days of FDR.   To me the American formula has had four components, all required for societies to succeed - democracy, open markets, personal liberty and the rule of law.  Somehow the Bush team simplisticly boiled that legacy down to just the magic elixar of "democracy" and free elections, as if just allowing people to vote would magically transform broken and conflicted societies.    Allowing Hamas to participate in the Palestinian elections was a break from our traditional formula, as they were allowed to stand for election while maintaining a strong and well funded militia, clearly ignoring any possible triumph of the rule of law.  

Kagan is perhaps too kind to Bush.  For by cloaking our anti-democratic methods in the Middle East -preemptive war, torture, coddling of dictatorships, rampant corruption in the rebuilding process in Iraq - in the language of democracy, i worry that Bush and the neocons did more than not adequately promote democracy around the world - and in fact did a great deal to profoundly undermine the very idea in the part of the world most in need of modernization and reform. 

Let the re-evaluation begin! 

"Play Stump the Candidate", Says Sarah Palin

Right on the heels of Senator McCain's latest foreign policy gaffe, his side-kick/Vice Presidential running mate decided to take a crack at dispelling these "attacks" about her lack of foreign policy experience. Just to put this in context: in the past week a bomb was detonated at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, two U.S. ambassadors were expelled from Latin American countries, and the ambassadors from those nations were similarly recalled from the U.S. (not to mention the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, of course). The importance of the actual knowledge - not just "experience" travelling - and understanding of these complex international relationships by Presidential candidates cannot be understated. It is anything but unfair to demand that the persons running for the highest seat in the land possess higher than average knowledge and understanding of the different regions in the world and our interest in each.

In this town hall meeting Gov. Palin basically says that we shouldn't fear because she and her running mate might not be ready now, but they will be ready "on January 20", "God willing". And she explains her credentials in the area of foreign policy: she'll be ready because she "has that readiness"...she's "ready to serve". "You can even play stump the candidate if you want to" by asking her "specifics, with specific policy or countries."


Barack on Iraq

Senator Obama has an op-ed in the New York Times today restating his vision for the future of our policy in Iraq, even as the political terrain on the issue begins to shift.

Al Qaeda Regroups, Israel Engages, the GOP Focuses on Obama's "Character"

Three more must reads this morning: 

Amid news reports that violence is rising in Afghanistan, the New York Times offers a major new look at how Bush Administration policies have contributed to the regrouping of Al Qaeda in the region. 

The New York Times editorial page reviews Israel's recent spate of diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, reminding us how these new bold initiatives are a direct repudiation of the now clearly failed Bush strategy for remaking the region.  

And the Washington Post offers an insightful piece on the growing conventional wisdom on how the GOP plans to go after U.S. Sen. Barack Obama - casting him as a politician without beliefs, willing to say and do anything to get elected. 

The Bush-McCain attacks on Obama

In today's Washington Post, Jamie Rubin does a great take down on the increasingly silly John McCain, reminding us all what McCain said about Hamas two years ago:

Two years ago, just after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary
elections, I interviewed McCain for the British network Sky News's
"World News Tonight" program. Here is the crucial part of our exchange:

I asked: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating
the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government
if Hamas is now in charge?"

McCain answered: "They're the government; sooner or later we are
going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand
why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy
towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things
that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new
reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security
and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

I will try to find more time to write about all this in the next few days, but see here for something I wrote about Bush-McCain attacks on Obama yesterday, and here for an essay I wrote recently on the terrible Bush Legacy in the Middle East. Note here the warm reception Bush received in Saudi Arabia today.

Update: TPM has the video of McCain on Hamas. 

Update Sat am: The Times reports on it all here

Bush's speech in Israel yesterday

There is so much wrong with what Bush said in Israel yesterday that it cannot fit in one blog post. The Huffington Post has this brief writeup, which includes the Secretary of Defense's repudiation of the Bush argument from earlier this week. But what galls me the most is that the cause of recent ascension is the Iraq war itself, and the placement of an Iranian-friendly Shiite-led Arab government in the heart of the Middle East; and that it has been this Administration who has been unable to do anything about the Iranian nuclear program. If there is any group responsible for the rise of Iran as a regional hegemon it is the neocons running the White House, not a Senator who opposed the Iraq war in the first place.

This speech was a dark moment in a terrible Presidency, one that has done so much to betray the core values that have made America a great and generous power. For more on the Bush legacy in the Middle East check out this essay I penned on returning from a 6 day long trip to Israel earlier this year.

Broder on Old Man McCain and his nutty worldview

David Broder takes a deeper look at John McCain's dangerously stupid comments about the nature of the Sunni-Shiite struggle and the overall geopolitics of the Middle East.

We weighed in about his astonishing statements yesterday. Watch the video of his remarks here.

Gaza and the Bush legacy in the Middle East

Lots of news reports today about renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

As I wrote in a recent essay, the Bush Legacy in the Middle East, the people of Israel and the emerging Palestinian state continue to pay the price for the horrendeous Bush decision to allow Hamas to participate in the recent PA elections without giving up their arms, and recognizing the right of Israel to exist. As long as Hamas is in Gaza, and as long as it continues to deny the legitimacy of the Israeli state, it is hard to see how peace will come in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While no one can be happy with what is happening in Gaza today, the world cannot expect Israel to sit by and allow regular rocket attacks against its people from a neighnboring power bent on its destruction. Progress and peace require an immediate cessation of the rocket attacks from Gaza.

Sunday update: On Sunday, the fighting spread, and escalated.

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