DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST….Elections in Iraq and Egypt. Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Voluntary disarmament in Libya. New progress between Israel and the Palestinians. A lot has happened in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq two years ago.

Who gets the credit for all this? George Bush? And what are the lessons learned? Seven foreign policy experts took a crack at that question and we’ve printed their response in the May issue of the Monthly (links are on the right). In addition, I’ve invited two guest bloggers to join me for the next few days to give us their own takes on this question: Dan Drezner, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in international relations, and Marc Lynch, a political science professor at Williams College who specializes in the Middle East. Marc is better known to many of you as the mystery blogger behind Abu Aardvark.

I already gave my answer to this question back in March: I’m skeptical that the war bears much responsibility for subsequent events, but it does provide the background against which they’ve unfolded. So if things eventually unfold well, the war will deserve a share of the credit ? or a share of the blame if they don’t.

I haven’t had any reason to change my mind about this yet, and you will be unsurprised to learn that the left-leaning authors of our seven essays are also skeptical that either George Bush or the war deserve much credit for the halting progress democracy has made in the Middle East since then. So instead of commenting further on that, I want to highlight something a little different that Michael Tomasky wrote in his piece about liberal reaction to Bush’s second inaugural address:

I was a bit chagrined whenever I heard liberal commentators or Democratic politicians slip casually from denouncing the hypocrisies embedded in the text to disparaging the goals laid out in the speech. Wait: Opposing tyranny? Expressing faith in the idea of freedom as man’s best destiny? Offering encouragement to democratic dissidents? I thought our side was supposed to be for all those things.

….A president who was respected around the world would make a far more effective pitchman for our values. Bush does not have the world’s respect, and it’s very hard to imagine he’ll gain it by the time he leaves office….That’s where the opportunity lies for liberals, and Democrats: to argue that our ability to spread democracy is linked to our political and moral credibility with the rest of the world. That may be a hard case to make in today’s Washington, but I think it’s an argument most Americans will accept. Someone just has to make it to them.

I think this is right. Arguments about means are obviously important, but as Michael says, too often we liberals let contempt for the messenger slip into contempt for the message. We may disagree about how to do it, but we should never be afraid to sound every bit as idealistic about liberty and democracy as George Bush. William Galston has a worthwhile long essay about this in the April issue.

That’s it for now. Dan and Marc will be popping in Monday morning to offer their own comments, and I’ll be joining in as well. In addition, of course, I’ll also keep up regular blogging on all our favorite topics. As always, comments are welcome.

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