Bush’s Freedom Agenda

Peter Baker, the excellent New York Times reporter, wrote an interesting Week in Review piece yesterday  contrasting  President Bush’s effort at promoting democracy with that of President Obama, who has said nary a word in defense of it and whose administration seems to be downplaying human rights as a centerpiece of American foreign policy (see Hillary Clinton’s remarks in China). But Baker makes one claim that in my judgment is clearly wrong, if widely accepted:

The Middle East, of course, is what led Mr. Bush down this road [democracy promotion] in the first place. After the invasion of Iraq failed to turn up any weapons of mass destruction, he embraced the goal of building democracy there as an outpost for freedom in a repressive region.

In fact, Bush repeatedly articulated his freedom agenda before the Iraq war began. The evidence can be found in many places, including in three prominent pre-war speeches: the 2002 State of the Union address, the June 24, 2002 speech on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the president’s February 27, 2003 address to the American Enterprise Institute, in which he said this:

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. The nation of Iraq — with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people — is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom. The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East. Arab intellectuals have called on Arab governments to address the “freedom gap” so their peoples can fully share in the progress of our times. Leaders in the region speak of a new Arab charter that champions internal reform, greater political participation, economic openness, and free trade. And from Morocco to Bahrain and beyond, nations are taking genuine steps toward politics reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.

It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world — or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim — is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.

So the argument that advocating democracy was for President Bush a post-war justification is simply not correct.

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Bush’s Freedom Agenda

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