Erik Larson

Feb 11, 2010

The Freedom Agenda

Fukuyama argues in the WSJ today that the Obama administration has erred in rejecting the Bush “freedom agenda” of promoting democracy in the Middle East in favor of a Realpolitik approach that provides support to existing regimes, as a quid pro quo for information about terrorists. We’ve gone back to dealing with “Arab strongmen”, as Fukuyama puts it. Case in point, the $70 million in security aid the U.S. gave to Yemen, a country ruled by the corrupt regime of President Saleh, who has squelched democratic reform and installed family members into his government, which functions in the all-too-familiar illegitimate authoritarian fashion of many Arab countries in the region.

Though the Bush “freedom agenda” became associated with the unpopular Iraq War, and sustained further damaged by tying it too closely to the military objectives of the War on Terror (think: the conspicuous refusal of the Bush administration to recognize the apparently legitimate Palestinian election of Hamas in 2005), Fukuyama argues that “the core premises of the Freedom Agenda remain essentially correct”. What the Bush administration sought to accomplish, ultimately, was a more democratic Middle East, dragged (kicking and screaming, if necessary) into an embrace of political democracy and individual liberties by a foreign policy that tied support in the region to verifiable democratic reforms, not just to information from “Arab strongmen” that may prove helpful for our own short-term national security interests. The Bush administration got it essentially right, in other words, because they saw that the threat to the West from the Middle East cannot be expurgated, and may well fester and grow, as long as the authoritarian, anti-democracy regimes dominate the region, unchallenged by our dollars or our ideas.