Liberals mocked George W. Bush’s “Forward Strategy of Freedom,” sneering that it was corny and idealistic, wouldn’t work, and didn’t suit exotic, backward, brown people who wouldn’t know what to do with liberty if it fell in their laps.
In the years since U.S. forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan and deposed Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the world has beheld a remarkably long line of popular uprisings in Middle Eastern and Eastern European states that has thoroughly vindicated Bush’s approach.
Four months after U.S. Marines took Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a quivering-in-his-boots Muammar Gaddafi acknowledged Libya’s responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and paid billions in compensation to relatives of victims, and to those of the UTA Flight 772 bombing and the Berlin discotheque bombing.
Three months later we witnessed the Rose Revolution in Georgia, in which the public protested against rigged parliamentary elections, removed President Eduard Shevardnadze, and installed reformist Mikhail Saakashvili.
In 2004 we watched the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, in which protestors kept Viktor Yanukovych from assuming office as Prime Minister after fraudulent elections and instated pro-reform Viktor Yushchenko.
In 2005 we observed the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, in which citizens rioted to protest the assassination of pro-Western former Primer Minister Rafik Hariri, the presence of tens of thousands of Syrian troops, and the rule of a pro-Syrian government.
Days after the Cedar Revolution, we had the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, in which protestors ousted corrupt President Askar Akayev.
In 2009 we monitored the Green Revolution in Iran, in which thousands of citizens rioted over the rigged presidential election that kept Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.
In December 2010 we saw the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, in which protestors ousted secular autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the first ever peaceful removal of an Arabic leader.
Earlier this month in Yemen, protestors marched in Sanaa and called for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Protestors in Albania demonstrated against Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
Over the past week, millions of protestors in Egypt have rioted in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, demanding the ouster of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak and the release of hundreds of political prisoners. Mubarak has since fired his cabinet and claimed he will not run again after serving out the final year of his current term, but has not responded to protestors’ demands.
Egyptian protestors modeled their protests after Tunisia’s, which in turn were made possible by the chain of protests and regime changes leading back to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Given Egypt’s size and prominence in the Arab world, deposing Mubarak would likely spur a wave of protests against other autocratic regimes in the region.
So what has Obama’s response been to all of this activity in his first two years in office?
Why, his response has been to cozy up to Soviet-influenced Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, illegitimate Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Islamist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, genocidal Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and autocratic Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Obama has been courting tyrants in fulfillment of the self-defeating strategy of “engagement” with the world’s most brutal, unreformable despots.
Unfortunately, he has offered less encouragement for those trying to overthrow these despots.
When Iranians rose against the mullahs and were slaughtered in the streets, Obama dawdled a week before raising an eyebrow over the carnage.
When Tunisians rose against their autocratic government, Obama waited until the deposed president had safely fled to Saudi Arabia, then preached “calm.”
Now Obama’s tepid response to Mubarak has been to murmur, “What is needed are concrete steps to advance the rights of the Egyptian people”—as if Mubarak and the rest of the world didn’t know that. Obama has failed to call for Mubarak’s resignation, free elections, or a pro-liberty government, or to spotlight Egypt’s abysmal human rights record, out of fealty to the fallacious notion that Egypt is a reliable U.S. ally and must be appeased.
There are grave concerns over what types of leadership would replace those deposed in Tunisia and Egypt, including Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood that would try to creep in and institute Sharia. But the original demonstrators—not the riffraff who want to loot and steal, not the convicts released from jail, not the Brotherhood—were grassroots and pro-liberty. The impulse of any genuinely pro-freedom Egyptian protestors is to be commended, not discouraged.
I have a problem with anyone who would tell everyday Egyptians that they’re not allowed to protest because their “allies” aren’t sure whether a new government would be better or worse than the current horrid one. Anyone who could look in the eyes of courageous Egyptians who want to live in freedom from censorship, repression, and fear of their government and tell them to shut up and go home does not care whether Egyptians ever have freedom.
Contrary to popular opinion among many conservatives, Obama has not been doing enough to encourage and guide such popular revolutions while in office. The U.S. should be standing up for freedom-seeking protestors and working with regional players to capitalize on power vacuums to ensure that pro-liberty governments take office.
Sadly, Obama’s approach to the flurry of popular uprisings has been, not to condemn tyrannical governments and encourage pro-liberty regimes, but to waffle on regime change and coddle dictators.
Every time Obama fails to stand up for liberty abroad, he discourages oppressed peoples from toppling the tyrants who rule them.
Obama’s policy is the opposite of Bush’s. It is a Backward Strategy of Oppression.