Monday, August 20, 2007

It's All the State Department's Fault

George W. Bush thinks he's a dissident:

By the time he arrived in Prague in June for a democracy conference, President Bush was frustrated. He had committed his presidency to working toward the goal of "ending tyranny in our world," yet the march of freedom seemed stalled. Just as aggravating was the sense that his own government was not committed to his vision.

As he sat down with opposition leaders from authoritarian societies around the world, he gave voice to his exasperation. "You're not the only dissident," Bush told Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leader in the resistance to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "I too am a dissident in Washington. Bureaucracy in the United States does not help change. It seems that Mubarak succeeded in brainwashing them."
At first I wasn't sure what Bush meant. (I know, highly unusual.) Was he dissenting against "the bureaucracy"? (And what was that?) Was he dissenting against Mubarak? Was he dissenting against Army specialists and sergeants in Iraq who tell it like it is, and not like Bush thinks it is? Was he dissenting against military families who've had enough of sacrificing their loved ones to an illegal and needless war? Or was he dissenting against the American people?

But the very next paragraph brings clarity. Bush is dissenting against the State Department, which has been frustrating his dream to bring freedom to the unfree and democracy to the oppressed:
... In his speech that day, Bush vowed to order U.S. ambassadors in unfree nations to meet with dissidents and boasted that he had created a fund to help embattled human rights defenders. But the State Department did not send out the cable directing ambassadors to sit down with dissidents until two months later. And to this day, not a nickel has been transferred to the fund he touted.

Two and a half years after Bush pledged in his second inaugural address to spread democracy around the world, the grand project has bogged down in a bureaucratic and geopolitical morass, in the view of many activists, officials and even White House aides. Many in his administration never bought into the idea, and some undermined it, including his own vice president. The Iraq war has distracted Bush and, in some quarters, discredited his aspirations. And while he focuses his ire on bureaucracy, Bush at times has compromised the idealism of that speech in the muddy reality of guarding other U.S. interests.

The story of how a president's vision is translated into thorny policy is a classic Washington tale of politics, inertia, rivalries and funding battles -- and a case study in the frustrated ambition of a besieged presidency. Bush says his goal of "ending tyranny" will take many generations, and he aims to institutionalize it as U.S. policy no matter who follows him in the White House. And for all the difficulties of the moment, it may yet, as he hopes, see fruition down the road.

At this point, though, democracy promotion has become so identified with an unpopular president that candidates running to succeed him are running away from it. At a recent debate, they rushed to disavow it. "I'm not a carbon copy of President Bush," one said. Another ventured that "maybe going to elections so quickly is a mistake." A third, asked if he agreed with Bush's vision, replied, "Absolutely not, because I don't think we can force people to accept our way of life, our way of government."

And those were the Republicans.

Poor Mr. Bush. But at least he has a friend at the Washington Post to sympathize with his plight.

Others are not so easily led. Laura Rozen, for example, pokes at a few holes in Bush's plaint that Peter Baker neglected to point out:
The WP's Peter Baker missed a few important insights in its piece on why Bush's democracy vision has stalled. The two biggest: Bush's vision of overturning tyranny and bringing democracy to Iraq has been dashed in massive sectarian bloodshed, loss of life, turmoil, insurgency, uncertainty and heartbreak and a massive devotion of US resources that might have gone to promoting grand things lots of places, and secondly, that in many targeted countries, promoting democracy would mean allowing Islamist groups, some designated as terrorist groups by the Bush administration, to prevail. The piece left out so many big examples of the contradictions -- Musharraf/Pakistan, Saudi Arabia whose corrupt royal family is so close to the White House and Cheney's office, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt -- of where Bush has decided he isn't quite sure he really wants democratic realities to be realized, and he just may prefer the tyrant, as Cheney openly does in Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. While the piece would seem to promote a few voices blaming the stalling of Bush's grand vision on the bureaucrats in the U.S. government, it also tried to save itself from total ingratiation with the White House by naming responsible the office of the vice president's "little-girl crush on strongmen." But how did it miss how corrupted and stalled and conflicted is the vision at the very top of the U.S. government -- with the president himself -- and the realities the president has found himself confronting? Bush is now using all the Sunni tyrants, the autocrats, royals and propped up, hardly a two of them democratically elected, to counter Iran, for instance. Bush have a hard time with the policy? Congress may be interested to know due to the $30 billion in military aid to those states it's being asked to approve by the Bush White House.

The U.S. government may be in serious trouble if and when Pakistan's military dictator falls. Same the hideously corrupted Saudi royal family, so personally close with Bush and Cheney. They don't seem to have too much use for democracy when it comes to their friends, the corrupt autocrats. It's hard to understand how the piece skipped such big glaring points and contradictions, as if Bush's pure longing for democracy in the world had not been sabotaged by nothing so much as conflicts of interest going to the very top, and U.S. national security interests defined by the very top. How would we know if Bush were really serious about democracy? If he told Riyadh to stuff it. That's never going to happen, so we can rest assured that Bush is quite content to live with the art of the possible, with a very high degree of realism, and any griping about the bureaucrats is something journalists should know better than to accept as more than a wink-nod excuse for the president's own decisions to compromise his vision of promoting democracy.

P.M. Carpenter sees another angle: Bush is utterly clueless about what it is ambassadors do:
... only the blindest of world leaders would expect their ambassadors to eagerly sit down with the dissidents of governments that those selfsame ambassadors are attempting to work with. It's called their job. That a sitting president would throw such a naively buffoonish wrench into the works is absolutely staggering. One tries to imagine, for instance, the geopolitically astute Richard Nixon ordering such a thing -- and it's just not imaginable.

One could easily go on, such as citing the cross-purpose reality of erecting authoritarianism at home as one lectures others on the bliss of domestic freedom. Or the somewhat contradictory example set by bombing the bejesus out of people for their own good. Or the futility of occupations. Or the actualities of narrow simple-mindedness applied to worldly complexities.

But my instructional preference? Bush is an idiot.

Works for me.

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