Bush Pere Feared Democracy, Bush Fils Embraces It

News Abroad

Ms. Klinghoffer is senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, Camden, and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East. She is also an HNN blogger. Click here for her blog.

Something surprising happened on Saturday. The father who for four years meticulously avoided interfering with his son’s handling the job he once had, entered the White House briefing room to signal reporters not to take his son’s inaugural rhetoric about enabling the spread of democracy seriously. Being a savvy diplomat, Bush, the father, merely noted that W’s words did not mean "new aggression or newly assertive military forces . . . instant change in every country . . .or any arrogance on part of the United States.” In other words, the words were not “meant to signal a new direction in U.S. foreign policy.” Well, the Iranian Mullahs do consider help and encouragement to democratic forces aggression and consistent support to such forces in Syria, Iran or North Korea would, indeed, represent a shift in American foreign policy. Arguing that it does not dooms the policy, which is based not on liberating armies but on helping people living in tyrannies liberate themselves. He knows that Rami G. Khouri of the Lebanese Daily Star was far from alone in observing that “most Middle Easterners feel the United States' rhetorical commitment to freedom and democracy is sharply contradicted by enduring U.S. support for autocrats and dictators, 15 years after the end of the cold war.”

W. knows his father’s post Gulf War policy is one of the most important reasons Middle Easterners doubt his words. Indeed, that is the reason he said: "Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world” [emphasis added] before he went on to promise: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Don’t worry, he went on to explain, that the new foreign policy is based merely on idealism. It is based on my assessment of what has to be done to keep America safe and, you know by now, that I will do whatever needs to be done to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens. It was that argument that W. repeated as he tried to repair the damage his father may have caused. "As I stated in my inaugural address, our security at home increasingly depends on the success of liberty abroad," the president said in his weekly radio address Saturday. "So we will continue to promote freedom, hope and democracy in the broader Middle East -- and by doing so, defeat the despair, hopelessness and resentments that feed terror."

“Read Sharansky,” the president suggested to those who wished to get a better insight to his thinking. I did and there, on page 67, in a description of an oval office conversation Sharansky had with Bush Pere, I found the key to the unprecedented semi-public row between father and son:

The president told me he intended to support Gorbachev’s efforts to keep the Soviet Union together and wanted my opinion on how best to help him. When I asked him why America wanted to prevent the breakup of the USSR, he explained that Gorbachev was a man with whom the United States “could do business.” Bush argued that it was better to have the Soviet nuclear arsenal in the hands of a leader America could rely on than under the control of unproven heads of state, even ones who were democratically elected. President Bush also make it clear that he believed dealing with an unelected Soviet leader who could be counted on to help preserve stability around the globe was better than taking a chance on a Pandora’s box of international chaos opening up in the wake of USSR’s collapse.

I respectfully told the president that in my view nothing could or should be done to convince Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians to reject the independence they had craved for so long and which is finally within their reach. Rather than attempt to thwart the democratic will of these people, I suggested that America focus its efforts on helping all parties manage the difficult transition to democracy. By facilitating this process, I argued, America would earn the lasting appreciation of those peoples and also be in a better position to address its own concerns about what might happen in a post-Soviet order.

But President Bush chose a different course. In August 1991, he traveled to the Ukraine where he delivered his notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech, in which he urged Ukrainians not to support “suicidal nationalism.” . . . . In the end, it made little difference to the Ukrainians what President Bush thought. A few months after his visit, the overwhelming majority of them voted to have a country of their own.

The Ukrainians acted and a reluctant George H. Bush ultimately was forced to go along. His fears turned out to be exaggerated, though I suspect many a diplomat working in Foggy Bottom misses the"good old days" of the Soviet Union. They, along with the media, lead the disingenuous chorus that tried to undermine the seriousness of Bush’s inauguration speech by equating Russia with China.

Actually W., unlike his father, did not try to sell out the Ukrainians for the sake of Putin. On the contrary, he stood steadfastly by the democratic forces in Ukraine as he did in Georgia. Ultimately, he may have done a favor both to Putin and the Russians. After all, Putin’s failure to force his candidate for president on the Ukrainians demonstrated to the Russians who considered sacrificing freedom for national glory that they may just lose both. Putin lost his Teflon coating and the Russian pensioners took to the streets to block his plan to cut their benefits. No, Russia is not China and the Russian people are unlikely to let their country backtrack that far. Indeed, the Chinese people are much more likely to push their country in the direction of Taiwan if for no other reason than their shame at remaining slaves in the age of democracy.

Pride and shame are powerful human motivators. If the Iraqis are going to risk their lives to go to the polls next Sunday, it will be to show the world that they are not merely looters, terrorists or victims but people capable of self rule. They have watched the Malaysians, Indonesians, Afghanis and Palestinians vote and they, too, want to prove that they are up to the task. The same is true about the rest of their Arab brothers.

“For the Arab world 2005 may well be remembered as the year of elections. January's Palestinian and Iraqi elections will be followed by a variety of polls in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Oman and Yemen. It is only in Egypt, though, that both presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled, in September and October respectively.” Thus starts Gamal Essam El-Din in a front-page Al Ahram Weekly article “Keeping Options Open." Indeed, there seems to be a battle royal going on in Egypt:

On 3 January Kamal El-Shazli, assistant secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), surprised many when he announced that not only had the NDP already selected Mubarak to run for an unprecedented fifth six-year term in office, but also that Mubarak would be sworn in "at a historic parliamentary session".

El-Shazli's announcement drew sharp criticism, not least from Gamal Mubarak, the president's son, who heads the NDP's powerful Policies Committee. While the opposition charaterised El-Shazli's announcement as "contemptuous of the people's will", Gamal Mubarak emphasised that the ruling party had not yet reached a decision on the re-nomination. "The decision," he said, "is President Mubarak's and the presidential re-nomination campaign will begin only if President Mubarak decides that he will run, and not before."

Hosni Mubarak and his cronies may like things as they are but, the younger generation, including his own son and heir apparent, feel their country is not only losing the leadership of the Arab world but its respect. In any case, the United States can no longer afford to play ball with Mubarak. His successful campaign to survive by teaching his people to hate Jews and America led to two attacks on the World Trade Center led by Egyptian Al Qaeda members. Sharansky is right. It’s time to activate the good, old linkage policy used by Senator Jackson to nudge the Soviet Union. The United States is giving Egypt a serious sum of money. It should come with democratizing strings attached. Already, the Bush administration encouraged Israeli-Egyptian economic cooperation by cutting tariffs of some goods which have components from both countries.

Still, no people are more eager for change than the Iranians who, too, are preparing for elections and after much to and fro, ostensibly about whether the word "rijal" means man or person, it seems that Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi will be permitted to run for president. In other words, the hard liners lost. Indeed, hardly had Bush finished his speech, than I received the following email message from my Iranian friend:

You may hate him or love him, but the following remarks from Mr. Bush's speech should give a renewed hope to our Iranian referendum movement. If America does what it says, then true organic democratic movement in the Middle East will have a new chance to emerge. The time has come to stop siding with the Middle Eastern oppressors.   I hope I will live to see that day.   Hey! This was the first American president who used  the word "Koran" in his inaugural address!


Her sentiments are echoed by a widely distributed, if anonymous, article published yesterday in the British Daily Telegraph entitled "It Wouldn't Take a War to Overthrow Iran's Mullahs": “Whereas there was no chance of creating a functioning democracy in Iraq without direct intervention, there is reason to hope that, given the opportunity, Iranians would shake off their theocracy and join the modern world."
How might we catalyze such a revolution? In three ways.

First, we should cease our dealings with the mullahs. EU countries, in contrast to the Americans, have pursued a policy of "constructive engagement" with Tehran, exchanging state visits and sending Jack Straw on repeated visits. (Iranians take Britain especially seriously, perhaps imagining that we are still the power we were when we last occupied their country in 1941.) That policy is now in shreds, as Iran's nuclear program nears completion.

Second, we should give financial and political assistance to dissidents inside the country.

Third, we should back the main resistance group, the People's Mujahidin, which, until recently, we treated as a terrorist organization in order to appease Khamenei.

As their exiled pretender, the Shah's heir Reza Pahlavi, reminds us, Iranians are not asking for our soldiers, merely for our active sympathy.

Give them the tools, and they will finish the job.

The January edition of Le Monde Diplomatique includes a particularly interesting article entitled, “Ukraine: the Practice of Protest,” in which Regis Gente and Laurent Rouy describe the successful nonviolent techniques used to overthrow the “tainted, corrupt and decadent – anything but democratic regimes” in Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine. Of particular importance were Ghandi-inspired manuals including Gene Sharp's, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation.” Freedom House and the Soros Foundation along with numerous other NGOs helped as did the support of the American and European governments.

Indeed, enabling the Iranians and other peoples who wish to liberate themselves do so may help mend the rift between the democrats and republicans, the U.S. and Europe and, even the Bush administration the NGOs and the media. After all, such cooperation was behind the success of “the spirit of Helsinki” which played a crucial role in bringing down the “evil empire.” Indeed, just as the New York Times was wrong to dismiss the Helsinki summit with the words, “never have so many struggled for so long over so little” (July 21, 1975), pundits are wrong to dismiss Bush’s inaugural speech as meaningless rhetoric. With this speech, George W. Bush announced that the U.S. accepts Sharansky’s dictum that not only are all people "created equal but also that all peoples are created equal” and are entitled to have a say in the manner in which they are governed. Moreover, it is in the self interest of the U.S. to help those who do not have such say, acquire it. If some foreign governments and elites are alarmed, it is because they know that their peoples are listening and hoping.

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Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/4/2005

"It is not anti-American as well as anti-Judaic." should have read "It is anti-American as well as anti-Judaic."

"WMD's and terrorism were the reason given for the need to invade." should have been more concise.

Sad to say, but I no longer have Professor Shenkman as my Editor.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/4/2005

"It is not anti-American as well as anti-Judaic." should have read "It is anti-American as well as anti-Judaic."

"WMD's and terrorism were the reason given for the need to invade." should have been more concise.

Sad to say, but I no longer have Professor Shenkman as my Editor.


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 2/3/2005

I am afraid that the Bush embrace of nation-building is rhetorical. In the end, it is not "democracy" that is being encouraged, but a series of liberal oligarchies that are better than the current system---but let's be real. "Democracy" is another word for no election left to loose.

Remember that Sa*dam had elections. The Chinese have "elections". Iran has "elections". Zimbabwe has "elections". You get my drift. Neither the Neocons nor the Islamicists are big on the kind of tolerance necessary for a genuinely democratic world, one that is respectful and tolerant. Elections are only the beginning of such a democracy, not its end point.

I must say that I do agree with the generally pro-Israel slant of the current Administration, when you compare it to the Realists of Bush the First. I am glad that the United States is not following the "world community" on this one. I have never believed that because the so-called civilized world favors something that it is good.

The so-called "civilized world" saw Hit*er as a balwark of civilization against barbarism, and some of the same forces in Higher Education that favor surrender to terrorism also supported Hi*ler. I am talking about factions on both the Right and the Left, mainly in Europe. Yesterday the world hated Jews because of religious reasons. Today, the hatred is found in the name of socialist equality and human rights. However, the root of it in Roman-German philosophy is roughly the same. It is not anti-American as well as anti-Judaic.

Let us be honest, though. Empires do not deliver democracy, even genuinely liberal Empires. That was never the point in Iraq. WMD's and terrorism were the reason given for the need to invade. I cannot stomach a re-invention of our reason for going to war, based on the need for a cover story. Let us be honest. No one in their right mind wants an Islamo-Fascist or Ba'athist State to be armed. Hence, the legitimate reason for regime change, namely self-preservation, remains IN PRINCIPLE (whether it was correctly applied in Iraq). Democracy was never given as the reason, nor would it have been accepted by either the Realists or the Neocons as a legitimate reason for war.

If Sad*am had wmd's, they are now safely in the hands of Syrian or Iranian terrorists. Otherwise, they are in Russia. Perhaps our CIA has them. All of these possibilities are unnerving. I cannot stomach deception. I am afraid that deception was used in this war, at least on some level that is hard to define. We are loosing too many lives. I am also afraid that we are loosing too many freedoms at home to have much to export abroad!

My Humble Opinion,