I'm surprised that Bush's National Defense University (NDU) speech on Tuesday didn't draw more reaction. While it didn't break new policy ground, Bush did identify himself and the Bush Doctrine with several particular developments - the democratic movement in Lebanon, the 2005 presidential election in Egypt, the recent municipal elections in Saudi Arabia - whose outcome can be observed and evaluated. While the State of the Union speech contained a grand-vision version of the Bush Doctrine, the NDU speech focused on more identifiable policies.
The presidential speech was not ignored, though.
Steve Soto asks Is The Happy Talk A Little Premature? 03/08/05:
I'm sure that we're witnessing another example of GOP spinning here of a bit of good news into "Bush as [Woodrow] Wilson". But it may be a little premature, a great deal presumptuous, and overtaken by events on the ground.
Todd Purdum in the New York Times replays the administration spin: For Bush, a Taste of Vindication in Mideast 03/09/05.
At the very least, Mr. Bush is feeling the glow of the recent flurry of impulses toward democracy in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where events have put him on a bit of a roll and some of his sharpest critics on the defensive. It now seems just possible that Mr. Bush and aides like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz were not wrong to argue that the "status quo of despotism cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or cut off," as the president put it in a speech at the National Defense University here.
The failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq, his administration's shifting rationales for the war, the lingering insurgency and steady American casualties there were a drag on Mr. Bush's political fortunes for most of last year. But a wave of developments since the better-than-expected Iraqi elections in January - some perhaps related and others probably not - have brought Mr. Bush a measure of vindication, which may or may not be sustained by events and his own actions in the months to come.
And he trots out Joe Liebermann, nominal Democrat, who Bush made a point of praising in the NDU speech, sounding like as much of a Bush lapdog as Tony Blair:
"Look, this moment in the Middle East has the feel of Central and Eastern Europe around the collapse of the Berlin Wall," he said in a telephone interview. "It's a very different historical and political context, and we all understand that democracy in the Middle East is in its infancy. But something is happening."
Mr. Lieberman said Mr. Bush deserved credit for at least two things: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the continued American military presence in Iraq, which he said showed "the proven willingness of the United States to put its power behind its principles."
Hindrocket at the rightwing blog Powerline gushes about A Moment of Triumph 03/08/05:
President Bush gave another excellent speech at the National Defense University today. When was the last time an American president laid out his philosophy, his strategy and his vision in such a series of speeches? For over three years now, Bush has given one after another: eloquent, determined, clear and persuasive. When collected, they may represent the most substantial body of speeches delivered by any President since Lincoln.
Oddly, Hindrocket omits any mention of Bush's impressive display during his appearance of making the blind to see and the lame to walk.
Though this article was published several days before Bush's NDU speech, neoconservative publicist Max Boot reflects the triumphalist mood and cites the same major examples that Bush used on Tuesday: Neocons May Get the Last Laugh Los Angeles Times 03/03/05.
This week, tens of thousands of anti-Syrian demonstrators in Beirut forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian government of Prime Minister Omar Karami. Many are already starting to compare the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon to the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
It would be the height of hubris to claim that all these developments are due to U.S. action alone. Pressure has been building up in the Middle East pressure cooker for decades; the long-suffering people of the region do not need any outside prompting to list a long litany of grievances against their dysfunctional governments. But it was the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent democratic elections there that blew the lid off the region.
"It's strange for me to say it," says Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who would never be mistaken for a Bush backer, "but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq."
In other words: Pay no attention to those missing WMDs. There's always a good reason for Bush's wars, even if we have to make it up afterward.
Boot was, of course, writing last week before the massive pro-Syrian demonstration organized in Beirut by Hizbollah on Tuesday. Also, see the Juan Cole link below for more on Jumblatt.
Reporter Jim VandeHei observes (Bush Calls Democracy Terror's Antidote Washington Post 03/09/05):
Events, some largely outside Bush's control, are setting the tempo for democracy in the Middle East as much as the president's policies. Lebanon, a nation rarely mentioned by Bush until the popular uprising, dominated yesterday's speech, while Iraq, the central focus of U.S. foreign policy, received only passing mention at the end of the address. ...
In his speech, Bush did not mention the estimated 500,000 protesters who took to the streets of Beirut yesterday to condemn the United States -- not the Syrian government. White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that the president was "glad to see people peacefully express their views," but that the protest served as a reminder of the hostilities Bush -- and democracy -- face in many areas of the Middle East. ...
Some Democrats criticized Bush for glossing over how he will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, as well as how he intends to protect U.S. borders, ports and buildings from terrorists. "He did not mention the two great, unfinished reform projects we must complete if we are to be safer: reform of our intelligence capabilities, and the protection of our biggest homelandsecurity vulnerabilities," Sen. Jon S. Corzine (N.J.) said.
This news report focused on the contrast between events on the streets of Beirut and the triumphalist rhetoric in Bush's NDU speech: Syria's backers hold huge rally in Beirut by Scott Wilson Boston Globe 03/09/05
In the largest demonstration of Lebanon's weeks-old political upheaval, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese celebrated Syria's long military presence here yesterday and cheered as the influential leader of a militant Islamic party warned the United States and the opposition movement it supports to cease disrupting the country's volatile political system.
The rally, organized by the armed Shi'ite Muslim party Hezbollah, filled a huge plaza in central Beirut and spilled down streets and highways for miles in every direction. The size served notice to Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition that its weeks of dominating the political debate here had ended, and Hezbollah's leader warned those who favor Syria's withdrawal and his party's disarmament that they do not represent most Lebanese.
... At almost the same time, Bush, speaking at the National Defense University in Washington, called again for Syria to leave Lebanon before the spring elections.
''Freedom will prevail in Lebanon," Bush said. ''The American people are on your side."
But the Bush administration's vision for democracy in Lebanon, as well as in other countries in the traditionally autocratic Middle East, is bumping up against the popularity of many parties deeply opposed to US policy in the region. Hezbollah has embarked on a public campaign to highlight those differences, appealing yesterday for the support of Arab governments in its effort. [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah, a Shi'ite cleric known for a deft political touch, called for regional demonstrations in the northern city of Tripoli and Nabatieh, a Hezbollah stronghold in the south, over the next five days.
Peter Wallsten and Tyler Marshall also called attention to the same dramatic contrast: Bush Sees Middle East 'Thaw' on Democracy Los Angeles Times03/09/05.
Speaking on the same day that half a million pro-Syrian demonstrators took to the streets in Beirut with anti-U.S. slogans, Bush called for "all Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel" to withdraw from Lebanon before May parliamentary elections, "for those elections to be free and fair." He charged that Syrian President Bashar Assad's recent promise of a phased pullout was a delaying tactic.
The television image of Bush criticizing Syria even while pro-Syrian demonstrations were in progress highlighted the complicated political landscape in the region.
They also mention the following reason for caution about events in Lebanon working to the advantage of the US:
A cautious note was soundedby James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who accused Bush of oversimplifying the situation in Lebanon and across the Middle East.
Zogby cited a new poll conducted in conjunction with his brother's U.S. firm, Zogby International, showing that far more Lebanese respondents blamed the United States and Israel for Hariri's death than blamed Syria.
And about 45% of Lebanese in the survey considered the United States and Israel to be the beneficiaries of the slaying, while 11% said it benefited the Syrian government.
Juan Cole was not impressed by Bush's claims: Hundreds of Thousands of Shiites Stage Pro-Syrian Demonstration in Beirut Informed Comment 03/09/05.
The simplistic master narrative constructed by the partisans of President George W. Bush held that the January 30 elections were a huge success, and signalled a turn to democracy in the Middle East. Then the anti-Syrian demonstrations were interpreted as a yearning for democracy inspired by the Iraqi elections.
This interpretation is a gross misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East. Bush is not pushing with any real force for democratization of Saudi Arabia (an absolute monarchy) or Pakistan (where the elected parliament demands in vain that General Pervez Musharraf take off his uniform if he wants to be president), or Tunisia (where Zayn Ben Ali has just won his 4th unopposed term as president), etc. Democratization is beingpushed only for regimes that Bush dislikes, such as Syria or Iran. The gestures that Mubarak of Egypt made (officially recognized parties may put up candidates to run against him, but not popular political forces like the Muslim Brotherhood) are empty. ...
The main exhibit for the relevance of Iraq to Lebanon is Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt's statement to the Washington Post: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world."
It is highly unlikely that Jumblatt is sincere in this statement. He has seen Lebanese vote for parliament several times, and has campaigned, and Iraq was nothing new to his experience (like Lebanon, it is occupied by a foreign military power even during its elections).
Steve Gilliard reminds us that democracy can be a complicated thing: Not so fast, Mr. Bush 03/09/05.
Democracy in the Middle East can have a very different outcome than the one Washington wants. I think our Iraqian friends may, in the end, listen to Tehran. Which is not the bill of good[s] [Ahmed] Chalabi sold the neocons. The fact that his real paymaster was in Tehran seems to still elude some people, like Richard Perle, who's been laughed off of several stages recently. Which means US soldiers died to create the Islamic Republic of Iraq, with no oil, no bases, nothing but dead and wounded. The potential for the greatest fiasco in US foreign policy still remains.
Now, Bush is playing with fire in Lebanon, forgetting that everyone has a vote, which means Hezbollah might object to their patrons being booted from the country, object in a very violent way. While the Bushies were cheering the protests, Hezbollah smacked their [private parts] back with [nearly] 500,000 people in the streets. Which dwarfed what came before. Someone in the White House must remember that the Shia love street theater, and the show which captivated Tehran and is now doing a road show in Beirut, may well do a long stand in Baghdad and points south. ...
Algeria, a country with close ties to the West, turned inward [after democratic elections in 1991] to a savage civil war which killed upwards of 100,000 people, some in grim massacres which outdid the French. The war even spread to Paris via terrorism.
Joshua Landis blogs from Syria (03/09/05):
The demonstration in Beirut yesterday turned the world on its head here. The spirit of Syrians was lifted out of the gutter and sent soaring. All the Lebanese are not against Syria and with George Bush. The crowds that gathered in Riad Al-Solh Square were estimated by al-Jazeera to be 1.5 million. BBC reported them to be 200,000. Whoever was counting they were big, much bigger than the crowds that came out in favor of “the opposition.” ...
Of course, the thrust of [Hizbollah leader Nasrallah's] speech was diametrically opposed to that of the opposition. He painted the opposition as unpatriotic and as agents of the West and Israel who do not have the best interests of the region at heart. They do not stand on the side of Arabism and the struggle against Lebanon’s enemy, Israel.
This comment relating to the earlier State of the Union address could also apply to the NDU speech: The Dangers of Overconfidence by Ivo Daalder, Center for American Progress 02/03/05.
But while there have been successes in the war on terror, much remains to be done. Spending on homeland security remains dangerously inadequate – leaving our ports, chemical facilities, transportation systems, and critical infrastructure needlessly vulnerable to attack. ... As for confronting terrorists in Iraq, that effort is failing: despite killing or capturing 15,000 insurgents in 2004, the number of fighters increased from 5,000 to 20,000 over the same period.
A similar disjunction characterized Bush's remarks on Iraq. The president talked about Iraq as if there, too, victory was around the corner. The large turnout of Kurdish and Shiite Iraqis in last Sunday's election was proof that the Iraqi people wanted their country to be democratic. The only thing left was to train Iraqi security forces – and once that task was accomplished we would leave a prosperous, democratic, and peaceful country behind.
Would that it were so easy. While the vote was a remarkable demonstration of Iraqi spirit, one election does not a democracy make. Most of the critical work still remains. The central question of who rules who, when, how, and for what length of time is yet to be settled. The vote also did nothing to end the violence, but the president said not a word about the long, hard slog that still lies ahead. The costs to date – 10,000 American casualties and more than $200 billion in taxpayers' money, to say nothing of the Iraqis killed and maimed – are only a beginning if we stay the present course. Yet, in painting such a rosy picture, Bush risks the danger of people concluding that with things going so well in Iraq, the time for the troops to come home is now.
Good point. Since democracy is sweeping the Middle East now, shouldn't we be pulling out our troops pronto? Problem solved, mission accomplished and all that.