Friday, February 04, 2011

Pride of Place

The idea that Iraq has anything to do with the unrest rocking the Arab world is met with derision by the people who opposed President Bush's freedom agenda and hated the Iraq War with a passion.

But Iraqis seem to think they had a role here:

Iraqis believe their example was responsible for the pro-democracy movements in Tunisia, Egypt and in other Arab states. But that attitude is only popular inside Iraq, as the media in the rest of the world was generally hostile to the removal of the Iraqi dictatorship by foreign invasion, and still is. Thus Iraqis get little credit for the democracy they are building.

Of course, we must learn all the lessons of Iraq:

But what's going on is instructive for what would likely happen in other new Arab democracies. Corruption, tribalism and continuing terrorist violence can be expected. It won't be easy or safe to be a democrat in an Arab nation that was long ruled by a dictator.

We must stay engaged in Iraq to help them through this. And as we urge Mubarak to leave, let's not neglect the responsibility we have to strengthen civil institutions within Egypt so that we can get at least close to spitting distance of free elections in Egypt in September to choose a new president (and parliament, I assume). Let's stay involved to make sure that this isn't a Gaza Election--one time and used by the plurality to seize power and end elections. Egyptians know that they hate what they live under. But unless we want to let other tyrants exploit this chaos to gain power, we must show them how to achieve rule of law as the answer to that yearning for something else. If we don't, Egyptians (and Tunisians, remember) will simply get something else that could be even worse than what they've rejected. Mind you, it will ultimately be up to Egyptians to decide they will defend democracy, but that doesn't mean they can do it alone. They need us. God help them, but they need the help of the  EU and the UN, too (as long as we watch them).

Not long after the Iraq insurgency began, a number of anti-war people condemned the decision to go to war, but at least argued that we must stay in Iraq to recover from the so-called mistakes of Bush (remember them invoking the "Pottery Barn rule"--you break it, you own it?). While I resented the idea that we'd "broken" what Saddam destroyed, I at least appreciated that they wanted to do the right thing. Sadly, it didn't take that long (oh, by about the primaries for the 2004 election) before these same people just wanted to run from Iraq and to Hell with that happens there, who wins, and how many Iraqis die.

So let's not walk away from Egypt (or Iraq. Or Tunisia, for that matter.). We may not have broken those countries--the locals did it all on their own--but others view us as owning these crises and we need to help as much as we can. We've triggered the cure, I think for problems we tolerated--but did not cause--throughout the Arab world. And just as Iraq may have provided an example of a country that achieved real (if struggling) democracy, George W. Bush is the one who destroyed the tyrant in Iraq, gave Iraq the opportunity to begin democracy, and defended that struggling democracy in the face of brutal killers sent from Iran and the Sunni Arab world. Depending on how events play out, as I wrote close to four years ago:

Our victory in Iraq will change the rules in a region still frozen in the Cold War era standards of strongmen who rule without regard to their people or their well being. When the history of the Middle East in this era is written, President Bush may well be known as George the Liberator.

Three years ago, I looked at that issue again:

His opponents misunderestimate Bush time and again. History may very well remember him as George the Liberator for his refusal to abandon the prospect of democracy for the Arab world even as self-styled "progressives" argue either that mere Arabs are unready for democracy and freedom or aren't worth the price to save from savage misrule that holds them in the seventh century servitude even as we embark on the 21st century.

Our President has boldly broken from the past emphasis on realism and stability that has given the Arab world nothing but poverty and misery (and resentment) amidst increasing prosperity; and instead offered the hope of a better future that includes freedom.

The audacity of hope that some Americans value so much these days is strangely limited in who may have hope and what they may hope for. They have a lot of nerve, that's for sure.

The Arab world has a revolution--if they can keep it. I remain audacious enough to hope that the Arab world will embrace this chance that America (and our allies who have fought with us, of course) under Bush's leadership, bought with the sacrifice of thousands of young Americans in uniform, has given their society for a better future. I think the Arab people deserves better than what they've endured. I guess that makes me a reactionary.

I'll be more than happy to let President Obama get credit right now in the difficult position he find himself in. But although President H. W. Bush navigated the fall of the Berlin Wall successfully (a great accomplishment on its own), he did not cause the fall. Likewise, while President Obama has a great job on his plate to cope with and shape the events taking place right now, nobody should be confused that he--who rejected the whole Bush freedom project--caused this wave of Arab (and others?) discontent at living under autocrats who rule for the benefit of their supporters only.