Day By Day

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bush and Democratization

The Obamaphiles are trying to take credit for recent democratic gains in the Muslim world, claiming that they were inspired by the President's Cairo speech. But Tom Friedman, writing in the NYT, claims otherwise. He writes:
[I]n ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, [Bush] opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
Read it here.

And Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, notes that these democratic reform movements are part of a larger process of liberalization that originated prior to Obama's presidency and has been under-reported in the MSM.
In Morocco in 2007, the much-ballyhooed Justice and Development Party wound up with 14 percent of the vote. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the predictions of increased market share for the pro-Sharia parties were likewise falsified. In Iraq this last January, the local elections penalized the clerical parties that had been making life a misery in cities like Basra. In neighboring Kuwait last month, the Islamist forces did poorly, and four women—including the striking figure of Rola Dashti, who refuses to wear any headgear—were elected to the 50-member parliament. Most important of all, perhaps, Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah was convincingly and unexpectedly defeated last week in Lebanon after an open and vigorous election, the results of which were not challenged by any party. And, from all I hear, if the Palestinians were to vote again this year—as they were at one point supposed to do—it would be highly improbable that Hamas would emerge the victor.
Read it here.

However you look at it, one thing is clear. George Bush's decision to overthrow the Saddam regime and his determination in the face of overwhelming opposition to stay the course in Iraq have been by far the most important factors promoting democratic change in the Muslim world. Pretty speeches are nice, but in the end what counts is action.