"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?"
The massive and violent demonstrations underway in Egypt, the smaller ones in Jordan and Yemen, and the recent revolt in Tunisia that inspired those events, have affirmed that the answer is no and are exploding, once and for all, the myth of Arab exceptionalism. Arab nations, too, yearn to throw off the secret police, to read a newspaper that the Ministry of Information has not censored and to vote in free elections. The Arab world may not be swept with a broad wave of revolts now, but neither will it soon forget this moment.
All these developments seem to come as a surprise to the Obama administration, which dismissed Bush's "freedom agenda" as overly ideological and meant essentially to defend the invasion of Iraq. But as Bush's support for the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and for a democratic Palestinian state showed, he was defending self-government, not the use of force. Consider what Bush said in that 2003 speech, which marked the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, an institution established by President Ronald Reagan precisely to support the expansion of freedom.
"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," Bush said. "As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export."
Jay Nordlinger, writing in the National Review, on the same subject:
Today, as Egypt explodes, I can’t help thinking of George W. Bush. I think in particular of an appearance he made in Sharm El Sheikh, in May 2008. I wrote about that appearance here. Before a conference of Middle Eastern elites, and their Western associates, Bush gave a speech that stood on the side of the men and women in the prison cells. And the people throughout the region who were hoping for a more democratic, freer, worthier life.
I will quote from my piece (written in the present tense, journal-style):
In due course, Bush slaps down the notion that democracy is a Western value, which America seeks to impose on unwilling people. “This is a condescending form of moral relativism,” he says. “The truth is that freedom is a universal right — the Almighty’s gift to every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth.”
This was the sort of talk that drove many Middle Eastern elites crazy. (They worried for their positions, for one thing.) It drove many Westerners crazy, too. In America, the Left hated any talk from Bush about freedom and democracy. They thought it was bigoted, dangerous, ethnocentric, theocratic, insensitive, self-congratulatory, hypocritical, warmongering, McCarthyite, crude, etc. As for conservatives, many of them harrumphed, as only conservatives can: “‘Freedom’! ‘Democracy’! A desire ‘beating in every human heart’! What a crock!”