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Bush's vision for the Middle East

By Robert S. Sargent Jr.
web posted November 17, 2003

On November 6, President Bush gave a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce marking the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy. It is a speech Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek called "…one of the most intelligent and eloquent statements by a president in recent memory." William Safire in the N.Y. Times admiringly said, "This speech clearly articulated the policy this Bush will be remembered for." Ignored by much of the mainstream media, it is indeed a different, revolutionary vision.

The speech takes us through a recent history of democracies. "In the early 1970s there were about 40 democracies in the world….As the 20th century ended, there were around 120 democracies in the world." He then brings up the question, "Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of Liberty? I, for one, do not believe it."

After he gives Japan and Germany as two examples of countries that some predicted would never embrace democracy, he addresses the Islamic countries. "More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments." Examples are Turkey, Indonesia, Senegal, Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone. But there is one spot in the world that democracy has "barely reached:" The Arab states.

Why must we endeavor to make these changes in the Arab world? "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe….Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East."

This is the first time since Reagan that a policy, a goal has been articulated for our foreign policy. Reagan, of course, had a purpose: confront Communism. Overpower it with power and technology until we "win" the cold war. (What was the policy or the purpose of the first Bush or of Clinton's foreign policy? I can't think of any.)

After 9/11, we had a choice: continue the sixty years of "excusing and accommodating," or do something. Bush chose the "do something:" Go after the terrorists and change the governments of those countries that harbor them. The vision of the Arab states joining in the world movement towards democracy is truly revolutionary.

Those opposed to Bush and his policies should ask themselves a question. As a feminist, do I believe in the freedoms and equality for women only in this country, or for all women in the world? As a member of the ACLU, do I believe that the constitutional and "natural" rights that we work for in this country should be enjoyed only by us, or by all the peoples of the world? As a member of the environmental movement, do I want a clean environment only in the United States, or do I want to help in correcting the devastating environmental policies of Saddam? As Bush said, "There are…essential principles common to every successful society, in every culture."

The vision seen by President Bush should be a vision embraced by all sides of the political spectrum. However, the way we get there was not addressed in Bush's speech. As Mr. Zakaria asked in his column, "What explains this strange mismatch between a powerful statement of goals and virtual silence about the means?" There must be means to achieve the vision.

In last Friday's (11/14) Washington Post editorial "Rethinking Iraq," it said, "Two days of high-profile consultations at the White House appear to have produced a mandate to speed the transfer of authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, even if that means scrapping the administration's previous requirement that Iraqis first draft and approve a new constitution.…(T)he administration's improvisations…convey unsteadiness; they again raise the question of whether the United States is prepared to stick with its mission in Iraq and with President Bush's goal of establishing a democratic government."

If President Bush can achieve his vision, he will define his presidency for all time, but he must also tell the American people how he will achieve the goal.

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.

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