2008/12/06

Juan Cole argues with President Bush

President Bush gave a speech on US-Mideast policy at the Sabas Forum on 5 December, Juan Cole then argued with much of what he said in that speech. In doing so, Cole reviewed and again called attention to many aspects of Bush's policies and explanations for those policies that have irked and annoyed liberals, lefties and progressives over the years.

Primarily, Bush annoys progressives by giving his listeners an entirely one-sided and very highly selective view on causes and events. He doesn't just speak as if wearing blinders, he speaks as if he were observing these things through a straw. As Cole observes, when speaking of various Middle Eastern "bad guys,"

A popular Shiite anti-Shah, anti-imperialist movement is no different from a small hyper-Sunni terrorist group?

According to Cole, Bush seeks to present the entire Islamic world as an:

undifferentiated terrain of seething irrational hostility

And I'm sorry, but Bush just plain flat-out lies in this paragraph:

"When Saddam’s regime fell, we refused to take the easy option and install a friendly strongman in his place."

Cole reviews the well-documented history of the Bush Administration's clear intention of installing Ahmed Chalabi as the Iraqi "friendly strongman" and continues with how the US tried again with Ayad Allawi. Both attempts failed because of Iraqi opposition. Neither attempt was unsuccessful because the US decided that such a thing would violate American ideals of democracy.

Even if we were to assume that Bush was being entirely honest and sincere in his desire to see democracy spread across major portions of the world, we'd still have a major problem with the way that Bush has chosen to go about it. The methods one chooses are important. Back during my college days, one of my professors got very excitable about the errors that people were making in interpreting a subject. Someone pointed out later that the professor had to realize that "He's not cutting down a forest, he's irrigating a desert." By the same logic, Bush and the neoconservatives around him seem to think that creating conditions for a democracy simply means getting rid of the local dictators. In reality, getting a democracy up and running means:

You need institutions like a well-trained legal and judicial establishment that can lay the groundwork for a rule of law. You need vital, independent unions and chambers of commerce. You need security. You need lots of things besides the Marines.

According to Cole, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party is the "bad guy" of today, but Bush's speech erases the history of how the Baath Party got into power back in the 1950s and 1960s with the enthusiastic backing of the US. Yes, it's entirely possible that "The Establishment" of the US regrets doing that and is now determined to right those old wrongs, but when their spokesperson ignores the history of US complicity in Mideast violence, there's no reason for anyone to have confidence that any new policies are being planned.

It's of course impossible to blame just Bush and his people for all this. Democrats haven't really tried to present an alternative view. I think that situation has changed a bit from years ago and the Democratic Party is more ideologically progressive than it was when Bush took office. The incoming presidency of Barack Obama is, I believe, a big improvement over Bush's presidency, but it's nowhere near enough for a lot of impatient critics, among whom I count lots of my buddies in the anti-war movement. The traditional media hasn't been presenting alternative views either, but again, the rise of the netroots with a more leftist perspective has ameliorated that problem somewhat. We're still not "there" and the press corps appears to still be unhealthily obsessed with Hillary Clinton and trivia in general, but I think we're making progress.

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