That was the headline of an article in the Washington Post (January 28, 2011) . They based it on this quote:
”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? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.” – Pres. George W. Bush, 11/3/2006
Bush may have been right. Or it may be that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Given enough time, George W. Bush was almost inevitably correct.
Whatever his words, in at least one regard, Bush ran his foreign policy using the same premise as every president since at least the Second World War . The operative motto: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” In other words, we’ll support any government who’s on our side against the other side ( Hitler, the Soviet Union, China, Al Qaeda, whomever).
These days you hear a lot of talk about putting the U.S “on the right side of history”, but this is would be like expecting the death-bed repentance of a lifelong sinner getting him into heaven.
Any Egyptians who have been upset by American support of Mubarak for the past 30 years aren’t going to suddenly forgive us now that we’ve decided to be “on the right side of history.” Their attitude will be, “Where were you when we needed you?” People have long memories, and so do peoples. Some in the U.S. are still fighting the Civil War. Some in the Balkans are still bitter about their conquest by the Ottoman Empire almost a thousand years ago. (Just like I bet the Hungarians still remember our ‘support’ of their revolt in 1956.)
And you want to know what’s a shame? Until well into the 20th century, America was the revolutionary example that every people envied and every dictator feared.
In 1776, we were to Europe what Tunisia currently is to the muslim world. The kings and emperors were shaking in their boots at the prospect of the American colonial rebellion succeeding, because that would put all of their monarchies in peril. There is historical speculation with some foundation that the French Revolution was inspired partly by the success of the American Revolution, and that Bastille Day being only 10 days after our Independence Day is no simple coincidence.
We are the oldest Constitutional Republic in the world. We are the oldest post-colonial nation in the world. It was in our national DNA to support colonies fighting for their independence and peoples fighting for democracy, and we did so, loudly and often
It is not a coincidence that Cuba and Chile have flags that are not so different from Texas, whose flag is intended to emulate the Stars and Stripes. It’s not a coincidence that so many post-colonial nations chose constitutions and presidential forms of government and bicameral legislatures.
The prototype for people all over the world for over 200 years has been and is the United States of America … but our ethos changed.
As a nation we became more and more ‘pragmatic’. We espoused democracy and free elections, but diplomatically we found it far easier to deal with the stability offered by strongmen and authoritarianism. We as a nation have been the politician preaching family values while cheating on his wife.
Diplomatically, we were seduced by short-term gain instead of investing long-term in our own values.
I certainly understand the policy appeal of an ally in the hand instead of two in the bush, but we can’t then claim to be surprised when revolutions happen and peoples hold our hypocrisy against us.