Sunday, February 13, 2011


Peter Baker in the Week in Review section of today's New York Times, on the question of whether events in Egypt and the Obama administration's response to them represent a return to Bush's "freedom agenda":

... Mr. Bush focused on democracy as a goal after the invasion of Iraq found none of the weapons of mass destruction reported by American intelligence agencies. He elevated it to a central theme in his second inaugural address, according to advisers, to infuse the war on terrorism with a positive mission beyond simply hunting down terrorists.

... Then, in 2006, the election of a Palestinian government led by Hamas quieted some of the administration's ardor for democracy....

Um, I would argue that that ardor cooled a bit earlier. A mere nine days after that second Bush inaugural address, Hosni Mubarak had Ayman Nour, the leading opposition presidential candidate, arrested. He was subsequently freed and allowed to run, but the election he lost to Mubarak was a sham (he won 8% of the vote to Mubarak's 89%). The U.S. had applied pressure -- but, as Eli Lake recently wrote in The New Republic, the Bush administration got cold feet after that:

... it was the parliamentary elections, scheduled for November, that both Egyptian reformers and American democracy promoters pinned their hopes to.

... the [Muslim] Brotherhood fared well once the voting got underway.

The first round of the elections was relatively free, but in the second and third rounds, the national police ambushed ballot stations and used tear gas on crowds of voters.... In the face of this repression, the response from Washington was muted....

Meanwhile, Ayman Nour -- who had run against Mubarak and lost in the bogus presidential election in September -- was jailed on December 5 and later convicted.

...This past weekend, I spoke to two former Bush officials who were involved in setting Middle East policy at the time. Scott Carpenter, who in 2005 and 2006 was a deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of President Bush's freedom agenda for the Middle East, said that, after the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the first round of voting, "a combination of factors led us to blink" in the later rounds....

Um, yeah -- factors like not actually believing in "freedom" if the free people did stuff we didn't like.

In today's Times piece, Baker cites a 2008 speech by Bush, which, according to a Bush speechwriter (in a recent Daily Beast article), was toned down to avoid giving offense to Mubarak. But it's odd that Baker doesn't mention the failure to get fully behind democratization in Egypt immediately after that freedom-praising 2005 Bush inaugural address, given the fact that so many people have criticized Obama for not doing the same in this case, and in the case of Iran.

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