Zakaria: What Bush Got Right

Fareed Zakaria has a piece in Newsweek on what Bush got right in the Middle East. Zakaria states:

The other noted political scientist who has been vindicated in recent weeks is George W. Bush. Across New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—and probably Europe and Asia as well—people are nervously asking themselves a question: “Could he possibly have been right?” The short answer is yes. Whether or not Bush deserves credit for everything that is happening in the Middle East, he has been fundamentally right about some big things.

Bush never accepted the view that Islamic terrorism had its roots in religion or culture or the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead he veered toward the analysis that the region was breeding terror because it had developed deep dysfunctions caused by decades of repression and an almost total lack of political, economic and social modernization. The Arab world, in this analysis, was almost unique in that over the past three decades it had become increasingly unfree, even as the rest of the world was opening up. His solution, therefore, was to push for reform in these lands.

The theory did not originate with Bush’s administration. Others had made this case: scholars like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, the Arab intellectuals who wrote the United Nations’ now famous “Arab Human Development Report” and even this writer. (Three weeks after 9/11 I wrote an essay titled “Why Do They Hate Us?” that made this case.) These ideas were gaining some ground in the Arab world, especially after 9/11. But Bush’s adoption of them was absolutely crucial because he had the power to pressure the region’s regimes. Efforts to change the dynamics of the Middle East had always collapsed in the past as its wily rulers would delay, obstruct and obfuscate. Bush has pushed them with persistence and, increasingly, he is trying to build a broader international effort. The results might surprise.

Zakaria has always been one of the more honest commentators on the Middle East, even (or especially) when he’s been critical of President Bush. This article nails it exactly: Bush was vindicated because his position was predicated on the right view of the region. The US has always been looking for “stability” in the region – what was needed was not stability but revolution. Iraq has proven to be the springboard for a larger democratic movement across the Middle East. Bush helped get the genie out of the bottle — the people of the Middle East are doing the rest.

Bush’s critics, many of whom bought into the crude stereotypes of the man, are rapidly being caught entirely off-guard by recent events in the Middle East. Much like the fall of the Soviet Union to many in the Left, this was not supposed to happen, especially not because of what they see as the vulgarity of American power. Yet it is happening, and it’s happening far faster than nearly anyone would have predicted. The old defeatism is still there, to be sure, but it has become increasingly out of touch with reality in the past few weeks.

Bush doesn’t deserve all the credit, the people of the Middle East will ultimately win or lose their freedom on their own initiative, but what has been proven is that those who blindly and arrogantly believed that autocracy and fundamentalism was the natural order for the Middle East have been proven wrong. Democracy is not a value that is confined only to the West, but a value that resonates within the very depths of human nature.

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