The Return of Pushing Democracy





WASHINGTON — The cheers of Tahrir Square were heard around the world. But if you listened carefully, you might have heard cheering from another quarter 7,000 miles from Cairo as well, in Dallas.

The revolution in Egypt has reopened a long-simmering debate about the “freedom agenda” that animated George W. Bush’s presidency. Was he right after all, as his supporters have argued? Are they claiming credit he does not deserve? And has President Obama picked up the mantle of democracy and made it his own?

The debate in Washington, and Dallas, tends to overlook the reality that revolutions in far-off countries are for the most part built from the ground up, not triggered by policy made in the halls of the West Wing. But the lessons of the Egyptian uprising will ripple through American politics, policymaking and history-shaping for some time to come.

President Bush, after all, made “ending tyranny in our world” the centerpiece of his second inaugural address, and, although he pursued it selectively, he considers it one of his signature legacies. The very notion of democracy promotion became so associated with him, and with the war in Iraq, that Democrats believed that it was now discredited. Never mind that Republican and Democratic presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan, had championed liberty overseas; by the time Mr. Bush left office it had become a polarizing concept....


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