April 24, 2004

Berger's Vision: The Fisking I

Sandy Berger was commissioned by Foreign Affairs to produce a foreign policy essay for the next president from a Democrat perspective.

This is much too long to analyze in one shot, thus the numbered title, Part I is below:

Speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy last fall, President George W. Bush delivered an important statement of American purpose. He rightly argued that the United States has an interest in political freedom in Muslim countries, because the absence of freedom denies people peaceful avenues for expressing dissent and thus drives them toward shadowy, violent alternatives. He fairly criticized past administrations for having been too tolerant of authoritarian Arab regimes. And he committed the United States to the difficult but vital task of supporting more open and democratic societies in the Middle East.

But with few exceptions, the democratic activists, politicians, journalists, and intellectuals in the Muslim world -- our natural partners in this effort -- met President Bush's speech with skepticism, even disdain. Across the Middle East, his words did little to improve popular perceptions of the United States and its intentions.

The problem with what Berger is saying is that he is stripping the criticism of crucial context. When you have over half a century of actual history in the region of supporting authoritarian, brutal regimes and betraying your own founding principles, it is highly unrealistic to think that a speech is going to change much. In fact, only retrospectively will arabs come to look at the Bush's NED speech as the turning point where the US returned to advocating honestly and sticking to its principles. What are missing are US actions at the time of the speech, actions that have started to be shown in Iraq today. As the dates for transition are hit and promises are kept, arabs will start to see not only pretty words but actions.

All the arab criticism that I saw from arab liberals and democrats was very much in the Missouri "show me" tradition. This is not unreasonable when the US is working to reverse multi-decade trends in its own actions. It's unreasonable to think that Berger doesn't know this very well.

Posted by TMLutas at April 24, 2004 10:39 PM