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September 25, 2006

Bush's Hypocrisy at the UN
Posted by Shadi Hamid

President Bush’s address last week at the United Nations is a fascinating read, a reminder of what could have been but now can never be. Five years of horrendous policies aside, Bush’s speechwriters are a skillful bunch. It reminded me of a different time – it seems an eternity – in early 2005, when it was still possible to be (at least somewhat) optimistic about the direction of US foreign policy. I was living in Jordan then and I remember telling a friend (in hushed tones, one presumes) that 10 years from now, as much we may dislike/hate the Bush administration, we may very well have to give credit where it is due – that Bush had done more than any of his predecessors to foster democratic reform in the world’s most undemocratic region. Everything, however, can change in the matter of a year, and that optimism – premature in retrospect – has given way to a realization that the Bush administration has discredited “democracy promotion” in the eyes of the world and, perhaps more problematically, in the eyes of the American public.

When I read the text of Bush’s inaugural and state of the union speeches in January 2005, I was more than impressed. 21 months later, Bush made many of the same points in his UN address. The language was similarly eloquent, but eloquence – when it rings hollow – can be dangerous. This time around, I was angry that Bush would have the gall to further taint “democracy promotion,” using it to justify his and Condi’s “new Middle East.” God knows how could he spew out the following lines with a straight face:

The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written. As liberty flourishes, nations grow in tolerance and hope and peace. And we're seeing that bright future begin to take root in the broader Middle East.

Or, how about this gem of calibrated condescension directed toward the Lebanese:

Last year, you inspired the world when you came out into the streets to demand your independence from Syrian dominance. You drove Syrian forces from your country and you reestablished democracy. Since then, you have been tested by the fighting that began with Hezbollah's unprovoked attacks on Israel. Many of you have seen your homes and communities caught in crossfire. We see your suffering, and the world is helping you to rebuild your country, and helping you deal with the armed extremists who are undermining your democracy by acting as a state within a state. The United Nations has passed a good resolution that has authorized an international force, led by France and Italy, to help you restore Lebanese sovereignty over Lebanese soil. For many years, Lebanon was a model of democracy and pluralism and openness in the region -- and it will be again.

 It’s too bad because Bush does make some good points and had his words been uttered under different circumstances, we might have been willing to believe him and perhaps even take him seriously. But it is unclear whether even he can believe his now mindless platitudes. How can he talk about democracy spreading in the Middle East, when his administration has, on the ground where it matters, given up on democracy promotion? Over the past year, he has given a blank check to the region’s dictators (such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah). Arab autocrats are as emboldened as ever, as they crush their opposition. One wonders how Bush can countenance such extreme degrees of cognitive dissonance between what he says and what he does. Perhaps ideology and the sense of one's own righteousness can be that blinding.


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And do we extend this blindness to Bush supporters??

Let us not forget other hypocritical Bush behavior at the UN. Although our President has publicly acknowledged that the UN's Millenium Goals are of extreme importance, the White House has actually obstructed efforts to achieve these goals.

Promised: In 2002, President Bush stood in front of cameras and pledged U.S. funding for the goals would reach $5 billion by 2006. Reality: The president asked congress for a mere $3 billion in the 2006 budget.

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