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April 04, 2005

A foreign policy that's as bold as Bush's, but won't boomerang
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Martin Peretz has an article in the New Republic about a big conundrum facing us foreign policy progressives: namely, how to come to grips with Bush’s successes in promoting democracy in the Middle East. Heather touched on this toward the end of her discussion of whether the spread of democracy will reach Zimbabwe, and whehter Bush will get credit for that. Peretz criticizes liberals for “churlishness” in the face of Bush’s achievements, noting that “One does not have to admire a lot about George W. Bush to admire what he has so far wrought. One need only be a thoughtful American with an interest in proliferating liberalism around the world. And, if liberals are unwilling to proliferate liberalism, then conservatives will. Rarely has there been a sweeter irony.”

I agree with his last point, namely that progressives must reclaim our heritage of liberal internationalism before conservatives steal and thwart it for good. I wrote about that in Foreign Affairs last year and more recently in a piece for CAP. I also think we need to give Bush props for ungluing Arab totalitarianism. Let's face it: most of us did not think this could be done, and we certainly had no plan for how to do it in the short-term.

We might as well give Bush credit because:

a) he deserves it (or at least part of it, sort of);
b) the country will credit him even if we don’t, so there’s not much to lose;
c) what’s happening in the Mideast is genuinely good news;
d) glueckschmerz (the opposite of schadenfreude, i.e. sorrow at someone else’s happiness) is unseemly.

But couple of new thoughts:

It’s not (just) churlishness that makes us hesitant to praise Bush’s accomplishments. Rather, we are convinced that key aspects of his approach -- the arrogance, the deception, the lack of accountability, the cronyism, the dismissiveness of critics and questioners, the failure to uphold democratic values while purporting to promote democracy, the refusal to admit mistakes -- are flat out wrong.

We’re not blind to the positive and important results of Bush’s daring in the Middle East. But we believe that over time, the negative sides of his foreign policy will likely overwhelm the positive, isolating America, making threats more difficult to contain, and undermining our influence and our security. It’s a tough to laud the results of Bush's press for democracy without being misconstrued as endorsing his foreign policy as a whole. We fear that anything perceived as easing up on the critique will open the door to an untrammeled brand of unilateralism that will ultimately prove counter-productive and dangerous.

Laura Rozen cites a piece in Ha’aretz entitled “Pro-Democracy and Anti-U.S.” that gets at the problem:

The sad part of all these examples . . . is that the American administration and Bush in particular are perceived as a scourge. Reform movements in Egypt, Iran, Lebanon or Syria, whose members are ready to be killed for democracy in their country, go berserk the moment they are accused of receiving American funds or contributions. To attain public legitimacy, it appears that each of these movements needs an anti-American slogan in addition to the pro-democracy slogan.

The paradox of Bush’s foreign policy may be that what is good for democracy turns out not to be so good for the U.S. Democracies built on a foundation of resentment toward us may not turn out to be reliable allies we can count on. Rather, fueled by populations that are skeptical and resentful of America, these countries may be less likely to support American policies than their predecessor regimes. We may be creating a world of democracies, but at the same time losing our footing at the center of it.

That does not mean democracy is somehow a bad thing, or that it shouldn’t be a centerpiece of U.S. policy. It does suggest that as a matter of U.S. interests, democracy coupled with kinship and support for the U.S. is far preferable than the former without the latter.

That leaves us to applaud Bush’s boldness, his willingness to commit U.S. power and energy in furtherance of important causes, and his sense of possibility about even the most intractable region of the world. We badly need more of all of those things within our own ranks. But at the same time, we must continue hammering at what’s wrong with Bush’s approach, and scheming to define a foreign policy that will be every bit as bold and visionary, but will attract rather than repel the rest of the world.


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We should fund the Islamists in order to discredit them!

In all seriousness, there needs to be some more meat on the bones of the Bush administration's democratization agenda, frankly. Lots and lots of protests make for great TV, especially in Lebanon, but they might lead only to a different kind of tyranny if we start seeing populist revolutions all over the place. Democracy is more than just elections and demonstrations; it's about independent judiciaries, a culture of transparency, functioning bureaucracies, and ideally, powerful middle classes.

I think we need to take up Thomas Carothers' suggestion and take the Middle East Partnership Initiative away from the State Dept. and set up a development bank like the Asia Development Bank, one that can work hand in hand w/, say, the newly independent Arab Human Development Report. We ought to be thinking real hard about running things in Europe through other entities like the OSCE.

And for g-d's sake, let's get a reasonable energy policy going already, eh?

Do the sponsoring of coups in Venezuela and Haiti count as democracy promotion? Someone answer this.

Don't go overboard with the kudos. We did that with Reagan and now Truman, Gen. Marshall and Pope John Paul have been forgotten in their roles in defeating communism.

Say "Finally. Conservatives say they care about human rights and democracy in foreign policy. Now we just need to get them to match their words with actions."

Emphasize, as you have done, that this is "LIBERAL internationalism". When giving Bush any credit, remind us of Truman, General Marshall and Pope John Paul.

Inevitably Reagan comes up. Remind everyone that he didn't actually invade anyone, he cooperated with his friend Gorbachev. Say something like "I wouldn't go as far as Reagan did in befriending Gorbachev, but international cooperation works."

I urge caution on giving shrub so much credit in the Middle East. Arafat died, so Palastinian's have elections, Harari was killed in Lebanon, and Syria removes some troops. What did Bush do to deserve any credit whatsoever. Afghanistan is turning into a narco funded state, and the elected leaders are still just the govt of Kabul. Iraq had elections, but Bush policies stop the majority from being able to form a government, even after what 54 days now?

And you want to jump the gun and give teamshrub credit? For what? Why jump the gun to praise such lies and incompetence?

I think we need to let the soup get finished before we give credit to the cook. When we get to taste it, then we can decide if it is good or not, and that needs much more time.

Bush killed labor unions in post-war Iraq:

Visionary human rights champion indeed. Even Reagan supported Solidarity.

The assumption is that good liberals must actively spread liberalism, by force if necessary. To be sure, liberals play more nicely than neocons, and that can have it's advantages. But at the end of the day, we all agree that spreading democracy is our historic mission on the planet. Bush might be a brute, but he at least has got results.

I think you are right to praise Bush. From where you're coming from, he's your guy. While you're at it, you should add Napolean to your pantheon of liberating heroes. And though Lenin was no democrat, he would certainly understand your universalist impulses and liberation mind-set.

I don't think this is a way for the Dems to win over American voters. They want security, they want a militarily strong America that takes no guff, and they want an America that leads by example. But outside of Wash DC, and certain fundamentalist circles, they are not up for an internationalist crusade.

The truth is you can not be as "bold as Bush" without being as irresponsible ("fools rush in" etc.). Nobody knew what would come out of invading Iraq and we are still one assassination away from civil war.

If you want to invade countries without provocation, you're going to get blowback. It's just that simple.

Since when has Bush ever done anything to support democracy? In Iraq he was dragged kicking and screaming into the elections by Sistani. The so called democracy in Afghanistan is a joke,unless by democracy you mean the right to establish opium poppy fiefdoms. This is the guy who kidnapped the democratically elected leader of Haiti and shipped him to Africa while supporting the gansters who took over. This is the guy who has constantly tried to undermine and overthrow the democratic government of Venezuela because he doesn't like thier oil policy. With Bush IT'S NEVER ABOUT DEMOCRACY!

A young boy pushes his cereal bowl on the floor over the protestations of his mother.

His mother glowers.

"I thought I saw a mouse; I tried to catch it with the bowl," he says, swinging his arms around for effect, knocking over a cup of juice in the process.

His mother scowls as she grabs a mop.

"Even if there wasn't a mouse, it was still the right thing to do," the boy continues while throwing a fork at the cat. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd do it again. I mean, look at how CLEAN the floor looks. It hasn't looked this good in YEARS!"

The mother pulls at her hair. She curses and compares the boy to a little-referenced part of the human anatomy.

"Oh, my. I know you're upset, dear, but...such language." the boy's father responds. "Must you be so CHURLISH?"

You give George Bush much too much credit.

Motive, after all, does count for something. The Administration’s goal in invading Iraq wasn’t to democratize that country; it was to replace a hostile regime with a friendly one in a strategically critical world region. The neo-conservatives hoped and expected to install a Chalabi-led regime that would surely have delayed elections until a safely pro-U.S. outcome could have been assured. When that scenario was clearly not on, the Administration did its best first to avoid, then delay direct democratic elections in Iraq.
Given the Bush adminstration’s embrace of a string of dictatorial regimes stretching from West Africa to South Asia, it is clear that democracy promotion for this Washington regime is what it has been for previous Democratic and Republican administrations alike—a club with which to beat our enemies, and, maybe to wave occasionally but not threateningly at some of our autocratic friends. You seem to be buying into the President’s democracy rhetoric; instead, we need to challenge its contradictions and, yes, hypocrisy.

Of course, one can argue that regardless of motive, the President has achieved some admirable results, perhaps in spite of himself. But, to use a Bushism, the jury is still out on whether the nascent democratic trends in the Near East and Central Asia will survive, much less blossom. A little sense of history might introduce some needed perspective. Democracy in Lebanon is not new—35 years ago political scientists were hailing that country as a model “consociational democracy” not long before it plunged into an extended bloody civil war. It was nearly 50 years after the Philippines emerged from U.S. occupation before a genuine and stable democracy seemed finally in prospect. And much of Latin America alternated between democracy and dictatorship for much of the 20th century. Yes, it is right to give credit where credit is due, but the still uncertain, largely speculative future benefits of the President’s policies pale beside their clear and present costs.

Also, please tell me if I’m wrong, but your praise for Bush’s “energy,” “boldness” and “daring” certainly sounds like an endorsement of the Iraq invasion, with reservations for “key aspects of his approach.” Your stance would make it harder to challenge the Republicans in the issue area where they should be weakest—national security. George Bush’s policies have weakened us by spreading our military dangerously thin, jeopardizing our alliances, creating new recruits and opportunities for international terrorism and generally eroding U.S. soft power in the world. John Kerry had difficulty making that argument in part because he was hobbled by his own vote to authorize the war. Why should liberals continue to carry such baggage voluntarily? We are not going to be able to construct a credible alternative to the conservatives’ messianic nationalism by endorsing their basic premises. A tolerance for imperialism lite, no matter how clothed in democratic objectives, is unlikely to resonate with the Democratic Party base in 2008, and it is unlikely to convince wavering voters that the Democrats offer a real alternative to the real thing.

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