Home/Daniel Larison/No, Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” Will Not Be Vindicated

No, Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” Will Not Be Vindicated

Mary Dejevsky pursues the dubious goal of praising George W. Bush:

Yet in his conviction that those of another religion and culture – in this case, Islam – shared the same aspirations as, say, Americans, the past year’s events in North Africa and the Middle East have proved him triumphantly right. Whatever happens next, the uprisings across the region did not originate in religion, but in a popular quest for a say in the running of the country, for justice and for a better life. It turns out that there really was a desire inside these countries for regime change. Indeed, it could be argued that US intervention in Iraq delayed political change – both there and elsewhere – by poisoning the American “brand”.

Yes, it could be charged that invading Iraq undermined regional democratization, because it did, but the more important error Dejevsky makes is to think that the argument between Bush and his critics was over whether or not Arabs and Muslims shared the same aspirations. There was never a serious question whether Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ites in particular wanted Hussein’s regime gone. The question was whether the U.S. had any business overthrowing the government of another state, and whether Iraqis wanted to have their country turned into a war zone for the sake of ridding themselves of Hussein. It took no insight on Bush’s part to realize that Hussein’s enemies inside Iraq hated his regime. It’s also worth noting that the democracy promotion justification for the war was never one of the main arguments the administration used before the invasion, and it only grew in importance when the other fraudulent justifications fell apart. That’s important to remember when we hear talk of how “right” Bush was about it, because it was by far the least important reason given for attacking Iraq.

Some conservative critics of Bush did maintain, and still do as far as I know, that democratization in the countries of the region will tend to have illiberal and Islamist results, and minorities in these countries are likely to be worse off as a result. Bush and his enthusiasts didn’t disagree with this argument so much as they were oblivious to it. Recent events have not vindicated them in the slightest. For them, there could be no downside to rapid democratization. After all, democracy makes people more peaceful! That was another profound falsehood that Bush and the war’s supporters promoted along the way.

Where Bush and his detractors differed the most on the so-called “freedom agenda” were on two major points. First, Bush and his backers fully expected that U.S.-led democracy promotion would prove contagious and lead to regional transformation. Second, they expected that this regional transformation would make the region less hostile to the U.S. (and, if they were really delusional, they expected the peoples of the region to become less hostile to Israel as well). Bush’s critics understood this wouldn’t happen, and they were correct. As universalists, Bush and his supporters believed that if other nations adopted some of our political practices that they would also come to endorse Washington’s definition of American interests. They believed this despite the fact that these interests typically came at the expense of countries in the region. In fact, to the extent that there has been any real democratization it has produced quite different results from those that supporters of the invasion expected. Bush’s “freedom agenda” has been calamitous both for the people it supposedly benefited and for the United States.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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