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Vindication?

At Commentary, Peter Wehner argues that the current uprising across much of the Arab world vindicates President Bush’s freedom agenda:

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …
Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror.

The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.
How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

Is that right? We were strong supporters of the Bush administration’s freedom strategy–the idea that the only way to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, long term, is to drain the swamp by helping Islamic countries to enter the modern world. I still think that is true. But did the freedom strategy work? It is still much too early to be sure, and it certainly is possible that the reality of democracy in Iraq, formerly the most benighted of the Arab tyrannies, has helped to inspire rebels in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Whether that turns out to be a good thing remains to be seen. Events since 2003 have perhaps suggested that Arab/Islamic culture is more backward and more resistant to change than we and many others thought. Seven years is a ridiculously short time, of course. But if the Muslim Brotherhood winds up in control of Egypt, it may be that the “realists” who doubted the Arabs’ ability to govern themselves will be vindicated, rather than George W. Bush. As always, time will tell. It is too early, I think, to claim vindication for the Bush administration’s freedom strategy, however morally well-grounded that strategy may have been.

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