That’s the ticket—Elliott Abrams, a key player in interventionist U.S. policy over the last quarter century, wants us to believe that former president George W. Bushknew what he was talking about on Middle East policy.
His latest paean to Bush Middle East policy is played up prominently on the front page of the Washington Post Outlook section.
Bush understood and empathized with the suffering peoples of the Arab world, writes Abrams, who at the National Security Council, had major input on U.S. policy pre- and post- the Iraq invasion.
Even more, Bush was a visionary, Abrams tells us: In November 2003, half a year after the Iraq invasion, Bush asked this “ ‘Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom and never even to have a choice in the matter?’ “
The problem now, Abrams says, is that President Obama fails to understand Bush’s enlightened view: “…in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty,” Bush said. “As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.”
Abrams’ muddled message is that somehow the Bush administration’s interventionist, pre-emptive war policies were the ticket to world stability. The context, however, is missing from the equation.
Among other things, Bush’s faulty, fraud-based invasion of Iraq and surrounding Middle East policy were a major contributor to a loss of esteem for the United States worldwide. The beacon of light – representing U.S. morality and principles of freedom – that presidents talk about was obscured in the sand. Abrams and his neoconservative allies promoted a war in Iraq based on the lie — destroying Saddam Hussein would promote democracy throughout the Arab world.
Does the current crisis prove that the United States didn’t go far enough, in Abrams’ estimation? This, by the way, is the same fellow who made headlines in the Reagan administration; when working with Oliver North, he promoted the Iran-Contra affair, tried to incite a broader Central American War, and settled for the U.S. invasion of Panama. (He also plead guilty in 1991 to charges of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra)
Abrams is among those who would attack President Obama’s caution in the present, historic changes sweeping through Arab countries. Such criticism is so much wind in the desert. He says that George W. Bush’s calls for democracy in the Arab world were important, as if President Obama would disagree with such a concept. The problem is that Bush’s rallying cry for self-determination came to sound a lot like double-speak and so does Abrams’ argument sound like self-justification after the fact.
The United States under Bush was misguided to consider it could impose U.S.-styled democracy on Iraq or anywhere else by intervention and bombs and occupation. After such efforts, President Obama inherited a very weak hand.
How much influence can the United States have when it has sunken to classic lows of respect among those who seek freedom in repressive lands? Those levels of trust have started to improve lately under President Obama. But to listen to a voice from the interventionist right criticize a centrist president for caution is more than absurd.