Is Middle East Freedom the Bush Legacy?
By Staff News & Analysis - February 01, 2011

Egypt protests show George W. Bush (left) was right about freedom in the Arab world … For decades, the Arab states have seemed exceptions to the laws of politics and human nature. While liberty expanded in many parts of the globe, these nations were left behind, their "freedom deficit" signaling the political underdevelopment that accompanied many other economic and social maladies. In November 2003, President George W. Bush laid out this question: "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?"… So a new set of questions becomes critical. What lesson will Arab regimes learn? Will they undertake the steady reforms that may bring peaceful change, or will they conclude that exiled Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali erred only by failing to shoot and club enough demonstrators? And will our own government learn that dictatorships are never truly stable? – Washington Post

Dominant Social Theme: The West must shoulder the burden of providing freedom worldwide.

Free-Market Analysis: Here at the Bell, we analyze the dominant social themes of the elite; Elliot Abrams who wrote the article excerpted above provides us with an excellent example of the use of what we refer to as the Hegelian dialectic. Who is Elliott Abrams? Among other things, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.

Abrams, in fact, is surely one of the "wise men" of Washington, and as such is connected to many of DC's most prestigious quasi-governmental organs. The Council on Foreign Relations itself has a long history of providing policy assessment and high-level advisors to various presidents going back at least as far as Woodrow Wilson. In this article, Abrams skillfully presents the kind of dialectic we often refer to – and thus provides a good platform for analysis.

Abrams frames a question in the article that demands answering and then answers it: That's how he controls the article's thesis. He proposes the parameters of the argument and then offers solutions within its limits. The choices he offers are the ones that President Bush himself presented (or so he argues): Either the peoples of the Middle East are going to continue to suffer under despotism or their governments will learn that democracy is a better alternative.

Abrams admits that the US government is not without fault, even though Bush did his best – Abrams maintains – to bring freedom to the Middle East. Again, these are rhetorical points and as such provide a platform for Abram's underlying point, which is apparently to rehabilitate President Bush's reputation as a decent, caring man who strove to act peaceably in a violent world.

We are not sure why this effort is ongoing. We noticed it began with Haiti, where former President Bush agreed to help manage a fund-raising effort for that earthquake battered country along with former President Bill Clinton. Many Internet sites along with magazines and newspapers have carried advertisements for the fund featuring profiles of Bush and Clinton staring resolutely into the distance. Bush recently wrote a book as well, one called "Decision Points" and toward the end of 2010 embarked on a mini-media tour to publicize it.

The book featured important decisions made during the presidency, as well as in his personal life. In various interviews he defended them and attempted to put them in context. Three of them seemed to stand out: First was standing under the "Mission Accomplished" banner in 2003 in order to announce an end to major combat operations in Iraq – when in fact the bulk of the war was yet to be waged.

A second decision point was flying over New Orleans in Air Force One and releasing a photo that showed him staring out an airplane window at the devastation below. Since his back was to the camera, it was difficult to determine Bush's reaction to the flooding and as Bush himself admits, the photo made him look "detached and uncaring."

The third has to do with torture. Bush defends various interrogation techniques that have traditionally been considered torture. This includes the waterboarding used to question Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, supposedly a strategist in the 9/11 World Trade Tower attacks. But he allowed waterboarding only after consulting with top White House legal officials. "I'm not a lawyer," Bush explained in one interview, "but you've got to trust the judgment of people around you, and I do."

In fact, Bush's "positives" have rebounded from the 20-30 percent lows of the end of his term in his office. But he remains an acutely polarizing figure and in a recent interview on C-SPAN TV, he announced he was giving up politics and even fund-raising. Here's how the interview was reported by AP:

Former president George W. Bush says he is through with politics, fundraising and campaigning — and has no interest in political punditry … "I don't want to go out and campaign for candidates. I don't want to be viewed as a perpetual money-raiser. I don't want to be on these talk shows giving my opinion, second-guessing the current president. I think it's bad for the country, frankly, to have a former president criticize his successor. It's tough enough to president as it is without a former president undermining the current president. Plus, I don't want to do that." He added that he finds this stage of his post-presidency "very comfortable" and "somewhat liberating." He also acknowledged the irony of using the C-SPAN TV interview to underscore that he does not want to be on TV.

One wonders why Bush went through all the trouble of writing a book and going on a press tour to publicize it, only to reverse course a few months later and announce that he was through politics and, apparently, public life. It could be argued that Bush proceeded on this course because many wished him to defend his legacy, which has remained under attack. Presidents often represent larger political forces at work and Bush in particular represented a robust form of military and regulatory democracy that has expressed itself with greater emphasis in the latter stages of America's development.

In a sense, the public's continued rejection of Bush is a rejection of this legacy, which is one reason perhaps why Bush has mounted a defense of it even though he confesses he is weary of the task. Yet the larger reason for his withdrawal from the public stage may have to do with the indefensibleness of what he and his supporters are trying to justify.

The initial event – 9/11 – that kicked off several serial wars, the irradiation of two countries, millions likely dead, wounded or sickened, has never been adequately explained or investigated; Bush himself remained resistant to a full investigation throughout his term. Senior members of the 9/11 Commission itself found the Bush administration to be less than truthful; the Commission's lead litigator has written a book on the subject. In fact, Bush initially did not wish to have any sort of committee formed to investigate 9/11.

The many controversies of the Bush administration flow from the botched investigation into 9/11. These include the creation and expansion of some 16 US spy agencies that are apparently aimed mostly at the US middle class and utilize what is increasingly a policy of unlimited, warrantless wiretapping, along with the abrogation of US civil liberties under the Patriot Act.

Bush also pioneered rendition policies that have kidnapped and tortured an undefined number of innocents. Under his administration, government and the national debt expanded tremendously; regulatory activity expanded from its previous intolerable high under Clinton; America's military industrial complex was greatly advantaged and the country itself was further militarized.

Bush did nothing about the eroding dollar-reserve system advanced by the US, or the irresponsible monetary and fiscal system generally. He was content to use the eroding levers of the US government to generate dubious, serial wars that even to this day American officials cannot discuss with any degree of rationality. He even defined himself as a "war president" – though he was never able to articulate logical reasons for the wars.

Today, the US struggles with the outcome of the Bush presidency – and many of President Barack Obama's problems are ones that were initially created by Bush. Chief among these problems is the increasing lack of consensus over America's role in the world. The problems that Bush has bequeathed to Obama can be seen in the administration's current confusion over the Middle East. Bush did nothing to dismantle the US's Intel-industrial complex – and in fact increased it dramatically – and thus we see reports that US intel is intimately involved in both the Tunisian and Egyptian "color revolutions."

It seems, in fact, that US intel may have decided to destabilize a large swath of the Middle East – and we have speculated in numerous recent articles that this may in fact entail the creation of unity governments that will eventually include elements of Islamic radicalism and fundamentalism. The idea may be to in a sense expand the war on terror to justify further crackdowns at home. Perhaps there was nothing that Bush could do to reverse forward progress of American authoritarianism (given the power-elite's preference for it), but history will record that he greatly facilitated its expansion.

The US federal government is far more intrusive today – overtly anyway – at home and abroad than it was prior to Bush's administration. In a sense, the Obama administration has merely been a care-taker, elaborating the themes that Bush set in motion. It should be noted that the ruin of the Bush administration was carried out under the unblinking gaze of the Internet. Bush either did not understand the ramifications of this technology or was impervious to its effects. But the result of Bush's authoritarian blundering has spawned a domestic, libertarian uprising – the Tea Party – and one could argue that the turmoil now affecting Africa and the Middle East are in large part a Bush legacy as well.

Abrams and the other wise men in Washington DC will no doubt continue to interpret Bush's legacy positively. But the truth-telling of the Internet has shredded the rational for his wars and exposed as well as the brutality and mendacity behind the administration's domestic and foreign security policies.

Bush could have disengaged American support for the dictators of the Middle East. He chose instead to support the authoritarian nature of these regimes and continued business-as-usual. Now the Middle East is in throes of roiling upheavals and the Obama administration and the US intel community is desperately attempting to "manage" the revolutions.

In fact, while these color revolutions have been manipulated, there is every evidence that the majority of those involved in the protests are sincere about their aspirations to build better, freer lives. This could hardly be further from what the CIA, MI6 and Mossad apparently intend to provide, however. But part of the Bush legacy is that these sorts of destabilizations are evolving in the Internet era when many in the Middle East are perfectly aware of the history of larger Western manipulations.

Has the proverbial die been cast? It would be our prediction that Western plans for the Middle East will proceed apace, but that they will not succeed this time in creating the expected outcome. Like Bush himself, the Western power elite continues to utilize 20th century strategies in a 21st century. This is a reason to predict further – serious – chaos in the Middle East (the kind that could affect oil prices and stock markets around the world). In fact, we would tend to believe that problems will tend to get worse not better, especially if food prices continue to rise. The power elite evidently wants a good deal of regime change in Africa and the Middle East for reasons we have mentioned.

Editor's Note: According to a breaking AP report, Jordan's King Abdullah II has fired government ministers after determined, ongoing (though little covered) street protests; an ex-army general will seek to form a new Cabinet.

After Thoughts

We would argue, nonetheless, that the elite's ability to manage change has been circumscribed by the Internet and resultant ramifications, and this will add yet another complicating factor to the unfolding events. This is also a reason why Bush's legacy will take a long time to burnish – despite the efforts of wise men such as Elliot Abrams.

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