Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bush's Foreign Policy Successes?

Food for thought from a Sullivan reader:
I've been a devoted reader of your blog since its inception five or six years ago. I'm a stalwart Democrat, and I disagreed with you for quite a bit of time - particularly the years immediately after 9/11 - yet I continued reading. I was studying in Cairo for 9/11, and the sentiments you called upon seemed completely alien to me, as your assessment of Bush seemed ridiculous; when you declared that you couldn't have imagined a competent Gore response to 9/11, I couldn't have disagreed more.

However, I suddenly feel a similar sentiment. I'm currently in Damascus, and I've been following the events in neighboring Lebanon quite closely. And all I see are Bush administration successes, from Ukraine to Iraq to Lebanon to Egypt. The transitions to democracy in all of these countries is hardly a fait accompli - both Iraq and Lebanon could still descend into sectarian civil war, and Egypt has hardly begun - but they are immensely heartening. And it's hard not to credit Bush. More worryingly (for me at least), it's hard to imagine a Kerry responding to Hariri's assassination as perfectly. This may be unfair - I'm a big fan of Joe Biden - but I have to confess that Bush's radical liberalism feels quite justified by current events. I'm waiting for a Democratic foreign policy that's not only competent - and I'm still convinced that the Democratic foreign policy establishment has many more competent than, say, Rumsfeld - but also idealistic. Idealism is powerful, and this is something Bush realized and I didn't. But the people of the Middle East certainly do understand this, and hopefully the Democratic foreign policy establishment will follow suit.
There have been several such reports recently, along with much gloating by right-wing bloggers. Perhaps Jon Stewart's fears will come true again:
[About Bush] He's gonna be a great--pretty soon, Republicans are gonna be like, "Reagan was nothing compared to this guy." Like, my kid's gonna go to a high school named after him, I just know it.
My own take is this: It is early days still, but from the standpoint of a foreign-policy liberal like myself it may look like Bush has actually started to do some good in this world. His Reaganesque conviction that if you talk tough about democracy and freedom long enough good things will happen seems to be paying off.

Now, if you think about it, this shouldn't be a surprise. In fact, a bigger surprise is that I was convinced Bush was purely immoral and self-interested. I didn't think much about the potential benefits of his policies. Just like the Clinton-haters still can't bring themselves to see that a liar and a cheat could actually balance the budget, grow the economy, and go after the worst terrorist of our time (Bin Laden).

Like many moderate liberals I aim to be less close-minded than most right-wing nut jobs so chalk me down as one of the liberals who is having second thoughts about the categorically rigid condemnation of the Bush administration and all its policies. That doesn't mean I would have voted for him (I still think he's untrustworthy, I don't like his secretive style, I don't like his despot-like tendencies to reward loyalty over competence, I absolutely hate his fiscal policies). But it means that I am now finally convinced that deep down he does want to promote freedom (albeit with a strong American flavor).

Of course it would be nice if he would stop pestering promoters of freedom such as Al-Jazeera but I guess in Bush's world these are mere details. Like with Reagan and his various nutty initiatives (like Star Wars) I guess it doesn't really matter if he knows what freedom really means as long as he keeps talking about it.

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