George Bush performed his best imitation of a finger-wagging schoolmarm lecturing Arab leaders about the imperfections of their societies, all the while ignoring his own, as USA Today reports in Bush wraps up Mideast trip with a thud, analysts say:
President Bush wrapped up his five-day Mideast tour Sunday with little visible progress on either of the main issues he highlighted: rising oil prices and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Instead, Bush was subjected to a wave of criticism as he delivered a lecture to the Arab world on the benefits of democracy.
“This trip was an exclamation point on the fact that the mystique about American power is no longer there,” said Steve Clemons, an analyst at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington.
On the final leg of his trip…Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak greeted him with a half-dozen soldiers and none of the pomp given Bush on other state visits. Instead, Egypt’s state-controlled newspapers slammed the American president in stinging front-page editorials.
“It was clear that America is neither loved nor feared,” said Hisham Qassem, a prominent Egyptian newspaper editor and democracy activist who won the National Endowment for Democracy’s annual democracy award last fall and visited with Bush in the Oval Office.
I thought this passage was especially telling. When I first read the beginning sentence I actually thought for a millisecond he was referring to prisoners rendered to Arab country by our CIA:
“America is deeply concerned about the plight of political prisoners in this region, as well as democratic activists who are intimidated or repressed, newspapers and civil society organizations that are shut down and dissidents whose voices are stifled,” Bush said in his speech in Sharm el-Sheik.
Bush cares about political prisoners who are the “right kind” of prisoners–democracy activists. He doesn’t care about Islamic prisoners or prisoners we’ve rendered to Syria or Egypt for torture. That’s an interesting double standard-don’t you think?
The article closes with a quotation from the inimitable Meyrav Wurmser who’s always good for a few (unintentional) laughs. He doesn’t disappoint here:
When Bush first launched his Mideast democratization push in the wake of 9/11, he thought he could achieve those goals by the end of his second term, Wurmser said.
On Sunday, Bush described the goals as predictions for the year 2068.
“Sixty years! Is he kidding?” Qassem said. “I had hoped to see some movement in my lifetime.”
“I think those speeches showed that he realizes this is … harder to do than he thought,” Wurmser said. “It’s not so easy to give these people democracy.”
Spoken with the appropriate level of noblesse oblige and colonial rectitude. Here, in a nutshell, is precisely the problem with the neocon world-view. You can’t “give” democracy to anyone. They have to want it and organize for it and embrace it themselves. Anything short of that won’t work as we’ve discovered in Iraq in our feeble attempt to graft democracy onto an unwilling Iraqi host.
In this passage quoted in the N.Y. Times’ coverage of the speech, Bush actually seems to be advocating that Muslims tolerate Christian missionary efforts:
“In our democracy, we would never punish a person for owning a Koran,” Mr. Bush said, taking aim at those who, he said, claim democracy and Islam are incompatible. “And we would never issue a death sentence to someone for converting to Islam. Democracy does not threaten Islam or any other religion. Democracy is the only system of government that guarantees their protection.”
Bush is oblivious to the fact that Muslims in “our democracy” ARE targeted and discriminated against. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that Debbie Almontaser, would-be principal of New York City’s Khalil Gibran Academy, is being sued by three Jewish opponents of this Arab-centered public school?
Bush’s contention about conversion neglects a fundamental difference between the U.S. and Muslim countries. We are not a Christian country, unlike what some Christian evangelists and Republican presidential candidates believe. So the idea that we should be proud of not condemning converts to death is almost nonsensical. Arab nations, on the other hand, have largely not absorbed the lessons of democracy. To expect a Muslim country to rid itself of theocracy overnight and become a model democracy seems the height of presumption. Democracy is a process. It doesn’t happen at lightning speed. And it is foolish to judge Arab nations by the same standards we would use to judge a western democracy.
Bush’s national security advisor closes the Times report with a telling, though unintentionally ironic comment on the peace process:
Mr. Hadley insisted that progress, though quiet, was occurring, and he hinted that Mr. Bush might return to the region before his term was over.
“The president will come back here,” Mr. Hadley said, “when there is work for him to do.”
That is precisely the problem. There IS work for George Bush to do, but he doesn’t even realize what it is. He expects that somehow the parties will shape up and come to him when they’re ready to make peace. Then he’ll return on a white horse to collect all the accolades he so richly deserves along with that Nobel Prize that has lingered just beyond his outstretched grasp.