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Speak Truth to Power…Mr. President?

August 24, 2007

Question: What do Nelson Mandela, Vaclev Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi & George W. Bush have in common? Answer: They are all “dissidents.”

Or at least, President Bush thinks so.

According to Washington Post staff writer Peter Baker, Bush likened himself to a ‘dissident’ amongst a group of opposition leaders in Prague this past June, when comparing his relationship with the “Washington bureaucracy.” (“As Democracy Falters, Bush Feels like a “Dissident,” The Washington Post, 8/20/07)

It is difficult to imagine how the son of a president in the richest country in the world could feel like a rebel. Maybe he’s referring to the time he was bailed out by his father’s ties in law after his second DUI or when he dodged the Vietnam War. Certainly, those were the times he was speaking of, right?

In all seriousness, President Bush knows he is no dissident. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in frustration with his lame duck second term presidency. Maybe, it was a feeble attempt to relate in some way to a group of real opposition leaders as well.

But, Baker’s piece invites a question. Did rhetoric meet reality for the Bush Administration? President Bush has often paid lip service to spreading freedom and democracy around the globe, but has he made any serious contribution to freedom and justice?

While Baker uses several examples; the most pertinent to the debate around the legacy of the Bush foreign policy are Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine and Georgia. Curiously, Baker neglects Afghanistan, but I will include it in the discussion as it is relevant here.

The two caucus states, Ukraine and Georgia, are both examples of bloodless transitions from autocratic rule to democratic elections. While these transitional democracies held free elections on Bush’s watch, it is unclear how much influence Washington had, other than diplomatic pressure. However, these should not be discounted. But, this still leaves Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

As in-country security analysts purport, the security situation in Afghanistan is increasingly dire. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) in Kabul, there have been 60 kidnappings since April 1 (“Taliban move closer to Kabul,” Christian Science Monitor, Mark Sappenfield, 7/24/07). The Fund for Peace, a Washington DC based NGO, ranked Afghanistan eighth in its annual ‘failed states index’ (“The Failed States Index 2007,” Foreign Policy Magazine, July/August 2007).

While Hamid Karzai was elected by popular vote, many claim the Karzai government holds little power or influence over rural areas. Two thirds of the population is amongst the poorest in the world, living on less than two dollars a day. Although, many say that the economy is growing rapidly, with GDP rate’s in the double digits, clearly security and poverty still loom large in the new Afghanistan.

Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are peculiar cases, where the Administration has supported both independent, autonomous rule and policies which has made these places increasingly unstable. After teaming up with Chirac to pressure Assad for an orderly exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the Administration supported Israel’s attack on Southern Lebanon the following summer.

Backed by the Bush administration, the Israeli government justified the aerial bombardment as ‘defensive;’ a proportionate response to a rocket attack from Hezbollah and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. After the war, Lebanon faced nearly 3 billion dollars in damage to its infrastructure. While Lebanon still isn’t at a high risk of ‘failing,’ security remains low and sectarian tensions high, a recipe for conflict (“The Failed States Index 2007”).

As for the Palestinian territories, under the ‘Road map for Peace,’ Palestinian statehood was hoped to be achieved as early as 2005. When Hamas won a plurality of seats in last January’s elections, Israel and the Bush administration faced a couple of choices: (a) support a democratically elected, radical Islamic government or; (b) marginalize the new Palestinian government. They chose the latter, and cut off aid to the territories.

After the attempt to form a coalition government ended in civil war, the populace split. Hamas now controls Gaza while Fatah runs the West Bank. The Bush Administration’s newest idea for the ‘Middle East Peace Process’: a 30 billion dollar aid package to Israel, and continue to isolate Gaza, and the Hamas government.

This leaves us with Iraq, arguably the most dangerous place in the world. Mass exodus, sectarian violence and the failure of the government to provide for basic human needs puts Iraq just behind Sudan on the list of failing states (“The Failed States Index of 2007”). Need I say more?

After the two Caucasus states, we are left with four societies mired in conflict and poverty. Surely, the results are not exclusively due to the administration’s policies, yet the Bush foreign policy has generally supported the isolation of states at odds with U.S. interests, military confrontation rather than restraint and an arrogant disregard for the rule of law. As such, the policies of the Bush Administration have largely undermined security and the educated middle class in the respective countries, arguably the most important prerequisites for democracies.

Historians will likely judge the Bush foreign policy as dangerously naive or cover for an overtly imperial foreign policy. A skeptical eye would tend to favor the latter, yet given President Bush’s lack of international knowledge prior to his time in office; it is hard not to give credence to his naivete. Either way, when President Bush exits office, he will likely leave a more dangerous world behind.

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