Peter Beinart is imagining things:

It’s worth recognizing how directly Cheney is repudiating Bush’s vision [bold mine-DL]. Bush’s core point—repeated by a thousand supportive pundits—was that when Middle Eastern dictators don’t allow democratic dissent, jihadist terrorism becomes the prime avenue for resistance.

It might be true that Cheney didn’t and doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for the so-called “freedom agenda” that Bush seemed to have, but Egypt is a lousy example to use as evidence. Beinart focuses on what Bush administration officials said about authoritarianism in Egypt and ignores what they did. As soon as the Muslim Brotherhood started to benefit from its support for democracy promotion, the Bush administration backed off. This a reminder that the Bush administration’s implementation of the so-called “freedom agenda” was always highly selective despite its pretensions otherwise. U.S. clients were consistently exempted, because supporters of the “freedom agenda” were usually more interested in creating new “pro-Western” client governments than they were in anything else. In countries where that involved elections or the overthrow of the current leadership, that is what most “freedom agenda” boosters have favored doing, and in countries where U.S. clients were already in power they were content to keep things as they were.

Incidentally, this is why David Brooks, enthusiast for “universal democracy,” was one of the first people to defend the Egyptian military’s coup last year. This also is why many democratists were so keen on Saakashvili and his party remaining in power despite their abuses of power, and were so unhappy when his party was voted out in a free election. The change in government in Georgia wasn’t really going to change the country’s overall foreign policy orientation, and it still hasn’t, but many democratists had so convinced themselves that it would install a “pro-Russian” government that they were vehemently against an opposition victory.

Most democratists see no inconsistency in supporting the overthrow of elected governments and promoting democracy abroad, because the purpose of the latter is to establish governments aligned with the U.S. Any elected government that doesn’t align itself with the U.S. will always be faulted for being insufficiently democratic and free, and its overthrow by coup or street protests will usually be welcomed. In the end, keeping these states in the U.S. orbit matters more to most of the boosters of the “freedom agenda,” even if they happen to be authoritarian ones, and that was already quite clear during the Bush era. Cheney isn’t repudiating Bush’s “freedom agenda,” but he is inadvertently drawing attention to the major contradiction at its core.

Advertisement