That, at least, is what I take away from Romney’s hilarious suggestion that Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi and Saleh — with almost 130 years of despotic rule between them — could have been transformed into democrats and their societies changed “in a more peaceful manner” if President Obama had stuck with his predecessor’s “freedom agenda” and gotten Mubarak “to move toward a more democratic posture.”
When Romney said this in his interview with Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper, Israel Hayom, he was intentionally sending a message designed to satisfy democratists and anti-Islamist hawks at the same time. The point of all of this was to attack Obama for abandoning Bush’s so-called “freedom agenda” while at the same time lamenting the results of popular uprisings that have deposed authoritarian rulers. Romney wants to have things both ways. He wants to be able to align himself with the disastrous record of U.S.-led democracy promotion under Bush, but he also wants to ignore that the results of that “freedom agenda” were ten times worse than anything that has happened in the last year and a half. He would then like to blame Obama for the outcomes of popular uprisings that by Romney’s own admission Obama did nothing to bring about.
The idea that more assertive U.S. democracy promotion could have prevented or limited the upheavals of the last eighteen months is a fantasy. The experience of the “freedom agenda” proves that U.S.-led democracy promotion is no protection against chaos, violence, and disorder. His purpose in that interview was to pander to advocates of democracy promotion without alarming his donor, and to emphasize his belief that the U.S. should be more assertive in intruding and meddling in the affairs of other nations. He is trying to placate hawks that incoherently want more democracy promotion in the Near East but don’t want to bring any Islamists to power.