Tuesday, February 01, 2011


John Cole points to this Daniel Larison post about Egypt:

... What is telling is that not even the Bush administration was foolish enough to continue pushing democracy promotion in Egypt. We have repeatedly heard the laughable counterfactuals that if only Obama had embraced the “freedom agenda” and publicly hectored Mubarak the Egyptian people would not now be rising up, as if fewer restrictions on secular and liberal candidates and free elections were going to lower the price of bread, slash inflation, magically produce more jobs, or reduce mass poverty....

I think Larison is probably right that the U.S. couldn't possibly have helped usher in a wonderful new era of democracy and freedom and "Kumbaya" in the Middle East -- but what I'm concerned with here is how the people who think the U.S. could have brought about miracles now assess blame, because those people are right-wingers, which means they have the potential to set the terms of the debate. Right now some of them seem to be claiming that Bush was right!!!, because he uttered soothing words about "freedom," while others claim that Obama is wrong -- and that, pre-Obama, mistakes were made by, um, other unnamed persons.

Here's Max Boot:

As I’ve argued repeatedly, if we had wanted to avoid this dire situation, we should have been putting real pressure on Mubarak to reform in years past. But many of those who now decry ElBaradei also resisted attempts to force Mubarak to liberalize, because they were devoted to the mantra of "stability" above all. We are now seeing how deceptive the Mubarak mirage actually was.

Did Boot actually argue this repeatedly when George W. Bush was president? Well, it appears he did argue it. Here he was in 2005:

Strong words alone will not dislodge an entrenched dictator like Hosni Mubarak. Obviously, we're not going to send the 3rd Infantry Division to achieve regime change in Cairo. How, then, is Mr. Bush going to back up his demand for democracy? Here's a proposal: Reduce or eliminate altogether the $2 billion annual U.S. subsidy to Egypt unless there's real economic and political progress....

We've seen in the past that threatening to cut off subsidies has helped modify Egyptian behavior. Dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim credits American pressure with helping to win his release from prison in 2003. And that involved a threat to withhold merely $130 million in supplemental aid. What might a threat to cut off $2 billion accomplish?

So back then he faulted Bush. Now he faults ... um, no one by name. Michael Ledeen, last Friday, also said mistakes were made, by no one in particular:

...We should have been pressuring the friendly tyrants in the Middle East to liberalize their polities lo these many years. We should have done it in the shah's Iran, and in Mubarak's Egypt, and in Ben Ali's Tunisia....

We shoulda, coulda done better all along. But here we are. It's quite clear that Obama is totally bamboozled....

So Obama gets blamed by name -- but Bush's name never comes up in Ledeen's 1300-word post.

My point is that the right-wingers who've always believed in Bush-style democracy promotion won't blame him by name for doing it wrong, even though they think he did do it wrong. But they will blame Obama for doing it wrong, by name.

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