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Abrams: Egypt Proves Bush Was Right

From the ‘Outlook’ section of the Washington Post:

In the streets of Cairo, proof Bush was right

Elliott Abrams
Sunday, January 30, 2011; B01

Bush adviser says Obama should have listened to the former president

For decades, the Arab states have seemed exceptions to the laws of politics and human nature. While liberty expanded in many parts of the globe, these nations were left behind, their "freedom deficit" signaling the political underdevelopment that accompanied many other economic and social maladies. In November 2003, President George W. Bush asked these questions:

"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 massive and violent demonstrations underway in Egypt, the smaller ones in Jordan and Yemen, and the recent revolt in Tunisia that inspired those events have affirmed that the answer is no and are exploding, once and for all, the myth of Arab exceptionalism. Arab nations, too, yearn to throw off the secret police, to read a newspaper that the Ministry of Information has not censored and to vote in free elections. The Arab world may not be swept with a broad wave of revolts now, but neither will it soon forget this moment.

So a new set of questions becomes critical. What lesson will Arab regimes learn? Will they undertake the steady reforms that may bring peaceful change, or will they conclude that exiled Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali erred only by failing to shoot and club enough demonstrators? And will our own government learn that dictatorships are never truly stable? For beneath the calm surface enforced by myriad security forces, the pressure for change only grows – and it may grow in extreme and violent forms when real debate and political competition are denied.

The regimes of Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak proffered the same line to Washington: It’s us or the Islamists. For Tunisia, a largely secular nation with a literacy rate of 75 percent and per capita GDP of $9,500, this claim was never defensible. In fact, Ben Ali jailed moderates, human rights advocates, editors – anyone who represented what might be called "hope and change."

Mubarak took the same tack for three decades. Ruling under an endless emergency law, he has crushed the moderate opposition while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has thrived underground and in the mosques. Mubarak in effect created a two-party system – his ruling National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood – and then defended the lack of democracy by saying a free election would bring the Islamists to power.

Of course, neither he nor we can know for sure what Egyptians really think; last fall’s parliamentary election was even more corrupt than the one in 2005. And sometimes the results of a first free election will find the moderates so poorly organized that extreme groups can eke out a victory, as Hamas did when it gained a 44-to-41 percent margin in the Palestinian election of 2006. But we do know for sure that regimes that make moderate politics impossible make extremism far more likely. Rule by emergency decree long enough, and you end up creating a genuine emergency. And Egypt has one now.

Ironically, it was Mr. Bush who pressured President Mubarak to allow more open and free elections in 2005. As a result of which, the Muslim Brotherhood won 20% of the seats in Egypt’s parliament. This huge victory shocked and frightened both Washington and Cairo.

Mr. Mubarak responded by purging the Muslim Brotherhood, which culminated in their defeat in last year’s legislative elections, which are now widely regarded to have been rigged by Mubarak’s ruling party.

"Angry Friday" brought tens of thousands of Egyptians into the streets all over the country, and they have remained there all weekend, demanding the end of the Mubarak regime.

Of course every Friday seems to be "Angry Friday" in the Middle East. (Friday being their most holy day of the week. And when the Mullahs get to whip them up at Friday prayers.)

The huge and once-feared police forces were soon overwhelmed and the Army called in. Even if these demonstrations are crushed, Egypt has a president who will be 83 at the time of this fall’s presidential election. Every day Hosni Mubarak survives in power now, he does so as dictator propped up by brute force alone. Election of his son Gamal as his successor is already a sour joke, and it is increasingly unlikely that Egypt’s ruling elites, civilian and military, will wish to tie their future to Hosni Mubarak rather than seeking new faces.

Mubarak’s appointment on Saturday of Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president and of former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq as prime minister suggests that Mubarak knows his own future is much in doubt. It also suggests that the military is already in full control of the country and preparing for the post-Mubarak period. If Suleiman and Shafiq have the full support of the Army and would promise a free election in the fall, perhaps the crowds would accept them as transitional figures once Mubarak resigns. But it may be too late for Mubarak to hand-pick his closest aides to run Egypt if he is forced out.

The three decades Hosni Mubarak and his cronies have already had in power leave Egypt with no reliable mechanisms for a transition to democratic rule. Egypt will have some of the same problems as Tunisia, where there are no strong democratic parties and where the demands of the people for rapid change may outstrip the new government’s ability to achieve it. This is also certain to be true in Yemen, where a weak central government has spent all its energies and most of its resources simply staying in power.

Unfortunately, what usually happens when you have ‘democracy in the streets’ – is that the biggest, loudest, most violent group that ultimately wins control. And in Egypt that would be the Muslim Brotherhood. They don’t have any real competition, apart from the Egyptian military.

All these developments seem to come as a surprise to the Obama administration, which dismissed Bush’s "freedom agenda" as overly ideological and meant essentially to defend the invasion of Iraq. But as Bush’s support for the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and for a democratic Palestinian state showed, he was defending self-government, not the use of force.

Lest we forget, for daring to hope for democracy for the Middle East and the rest of the world, President Bush was called ‘arrogant’ and mocked as a ‘cowboy.’

Consider what Bush said in that 2003 speech, which marked the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, an institution established by President Ronald Reagan precisely to support the expansion of freedom.

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe – because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," Bush said. "As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export."

This spirit did not always animate U.S. diplomacy in the Bush administration; plenty of officials found it unrealistic and had to be prodded or overruled to follow the president’s lead. But the revolt in Tunisia, the gigantic wave of demonstrations in Egypt and the more recent marches in Yemen all make clear that Bush had it right – and that the Obama administration’s abandonment of this mind-set is nothing short of a tragedy.

U.S. officials talked to Mubarak plenty in 2009 and 2010, and even talked to the far more repressive President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but they talked about their goals for Israeli-Palestinian peace and ignored the police states outside the doors of those presidential palaces. When the Iranian regime stole the June 2009 elections and people went to the streets, the Obama administration feared that speaking out in their support might jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. The "reset" sought with Russia has been with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not the Russian people suffering his increasingly despotic and lawless rule.

Mr. Obama has yet to meet a dictator he didn’t like – or even bow to. And where has that gotten the US and the cause of freedom?

This has been the greatest failure of policy and imagination in the administration’s approach: Looking at the world map, it sees states and their rulers, but has forgotten the millions of people suffering under and beginning to rebel against those rulers. "Engagement" has not been the problem, but rather the administration’s insistence on engaging with regimes rather than with the people trying to survive under them.

If the Arab regimes learn the wrong lessons and turn once again to their police and their armies, the U.S. reaction becomes even more important. President Obama’s words of support for both the demonstrators and the government late Friday, after speaking with Mubarak, were too little, too late. He said Mubarak had called for "a better democracy" in Egypt, but Obama’s remarks did not clearly demand democracy or free elections there. We cannot deliver democracy to the Arab states, but we can make our principles and our policies clear. Now is the time to say that the peoples of the Middle East are not "beyond the reach of liberty" and that we will assist any peaceful effort to achieve it – and oppose and condemn efforts to suppress it.

Such a statement would not elevate our ideals at the expense of our interests. It turns out, as those demonstrators are telling us, that supporting freedom is the best policy of all.

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.

Notice how the same foreign policy experts who mocked President Bush and warmongering ‘neo-cons’ like Elliot Abrams for saying Iraq could be an inspiration for democracy in the Middle East are now calling the current upheavals over there a ‘democratic uprising.’

And let’s hope that Mr. Abrams is right.

Oddly enough, no matter how the Egyptian situation turns out, it will probably prove that President Bush was right in his foreign policy approach to the Middle East.

Mr. Bush believed that if you overthrow a dictatorship and establish some semblance of a democracy in Iraq, it might inspire other countries in the Middle East.

But if instead of getting a representative democracy, Egypt gets yet another Islamic dictatorship, that also shows Bush was right about the need to take on ‘Islamic extremism’ in the War On Terror.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, January 31st, 2011. Comments are currently closed.

7 Responses to “Abrams: Egypt Proves Bush Was Right”

  1. Astravogel says:

    There are some folks who can learn,
    and there are some you have to teach.

    I hope our new leaders can learn.
    History doesn’t provide much hope for
    this, unfortunately for us . They always
    seem to back the loosing horse, or in
    this case Hosni.

    Better start making more arrows, and
    beating those plowshares back into

  2. proreason says:

    There is zero chance for genuine democracy in the Middle East without an American president in charge of the US.

    And even if Dubya was still in charge, it would be a long shot.

    Ultimately, this will have to become cataclysmic clash of civilizations…modern civilization against ancient civilization. The outcome is inevitable; it’s just that nobody wants to even consider it.

    But that will perculate for many decades longer. In the meantime, we have our far more dangerous enemy to deal with…the boy king. But no matter if he grows up to become the eternal king he sees as his destiny, Islam is toast…it will actually be around longer if Americans prevail over the traitor in the White House. Don’t imagine for a second that if the marxists prevail that they will show the slightest tolerance for Islamic nutters. Mecca will probably endure for about a month.

  3. tranquil.night says:

    And let’s not forget imperialistic! “No country has the right to impose its will on another country” and all those great clips. Because that’s supposedly why the world was mad at us.

    Great work Steve.

  4. Rusty Shackleford says:

    It’s all been rather interesting to me to watch as middle east nations fall to radical islame. To see the tide of civilization roll back into the 1400’s. Libya, Iran, now Egypt. But, under Mubarak, much of Egypt’s population was starving, unemployed, etc. Seems that the new governent will be a “distinction without a difference”. That is, for their own citizens. For us over here in the US, it will mean boot-on-the-neck for the use of the Suez canal. So, likely, after we elect a conservative president, we’ll have to go over there and militarily take over the Suez canal after some years of 7 dollar a gallon gas gets us fed up enough. Which, of course, the big O hopes for so he can further force his “green” (as in the color of money) agenda on the American people. He couldn’t be happier if a nasty, smelly pro-islamic regime overtook Egypt. It would work so well with his plans. In other words, this collapse of the Egyptian government has him very happy.

  5. artboyusa says:

    “Those peacocks look nice” commented President Obama, gazing out over the White House lawn at the flock of strutting, prancing, preening, screaming birds, with their extravagant plumage and glaring little eyes. “They really add something special to the place, something almost…regal”.

    “Quite so, Mr President” toadied his Chief Advisor, Rod Axeldave. “You know, sir; I was thinking the other day about how much you remind me of someone”.

    “Really? Like who? King Louis XIV of France, the celebrated Roi Soleil or ‘Sun King’?”

    “No sir; not exactly”.

    “The late Shah of Iran, King of Kings? He was pretty magnificent, with that golden throne and all”.

    “Nuh uh”.

    “Well; who then?”

    “Ronald Reagan”.

    “WHAT?” spluttered Obama, gagging on the clean menthol taste of his ever burning Kool. “Are you drunk or something? Are you back on dope? How exactly, in the name of Allah, do I remind you of Reagan?”

    “Well sir; there are a host of parallels: you and Reagan are both the president, you’re both family guys – him twice over, you’re both native born Americ – well, never mind. Anyway you and the Gipper have a lot in common, Mr President”.

    “I doubt it” muttered Obama “but if saying so will help me out politically…”

    “Oh, it will! It will!” enthused Rod Axeldave. “We’ve got our media stooges primed and ready to go with a flood, nay a raging torrent, of foaming nonsense about the uncanny resemblance between the beloved, avuncular, Cold War ending Ronnie and you; the aloof, conceited, narcissistic…”

    “Narcissistic?” queried Obama, checking himself out in the mirror and giving his reflexion an approving little wink. “Possession of a certain degree of self regard doesn’t make you a narcissist, Rod. It makes you…”

    “Conceited?” muttered Rod Axeldave, immediately wishing he hadn’t.

    “And no one reads Newsweek or Time anymore anyway” continued Obama, blithely. “Not even at the dentist”.

    “But Mr President! Look at what’s happening in Tunisia and in Egypt! People in the streets! Old regimes swept away! This is your Reagan moment, sir!”

    “Reagan moment? That’s no good, Rod. I’m not lending my sparkling luster to enhance the posthumous reputation of some B movie ham. I need a parallel I can be more comfortable with; why can’t this be my Jimmy Carter moment, huh? Think 1979. Think Iran. Think Carter. Imagine the headlines: ‘Nobel Laureate World Statesman Obama in Jimmy Carter Moment; sets Nations Free’. How’s that sound?”

    “Um, well…okay. I guess” mumbled Rod, thinking that it didn’t sound okay at all.

    • proreason says:

      My old Time and Newsweek magazines make great birdcage liners. Very absorbent.

    • Right of the People says:

      I had a Jimmy Carter moment one time but I was so embarrassed by it I swore to never do it again.

      If the boy king were as good as Carter, we’d be in much better shape. God that’s so sad!

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