Abrams’ predictable palaver

ABRAMS’ PREDICTABLE PALAVER…. Thursday night, I received an email from B.G., a long-time regular, who told me exactly what to expect: “Get ready for the right to unleash a wave of ‘Bush was right’ commentary.”

Lo and behold, the front page of the Washington Post‘s Outlook section this morning features this headline: “In the streets of Cairo, proof Bush was right.” The accompanying was written by Elliott Abrams, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Bush/Cheney administration, and is perhaps best known for lying to Congress during the Iran/Contra scandal.

His case today is quite a stretch. The tumult in several Middle Eastern countries — Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and to a lesser extent, Jordan — stems from systemic flaws that Bush identified and worked to solve.

All these developments seem to come as a surprise to the Obama administration, which dismissed Bush’s “freedom agenda” as overly ideological and meant essentially to defend the invasion of Iraq. But as Bush’s support for the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon and for a democratic Palestinian state showed, he was defending self-government, not the use of force. Consider what Bush said in that 2003 speech, which marked the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, an institution established by President Ronald Reagan precisely to support the expansion of freedom.

“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty,” Bush said. “As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.”

Abrams went on to argue that President Obama needs to “clearly demand democracy or free elections” in Egypt, and “supporting freedom is the best policy of all.”

There are a few angles to keep in mind here. First, the “freedom agenda” really was a post-hoc justification for a tragic and unnecessary war in Iraq.

Second, Abrams may not fully appreciate the nuances of the “freedom agenda.” As Bush explained it, free elections necessarily produced moderate, legitimate governments that would seek peace. We know that didn’t work when Bush rushed elections in Gaza and Lebanon, and we have no idea if it would work in Egypt, Abrams’ chest-thumping notwithstanding.

Third, Abrams makes it seem as if Bush had some special insights into regional affairs, which the Obama team deliberately disregarded. That’s silly. Three weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not only pressed Middle Eastern leaders on systemic reforms, she did so with rather blunt language. Speaking at a conference in Qatar, she said countries in the region “risked ‘sinking into the sand’ of unrest and extremism unless they liberalized their political systems and cleaned up their economies.”

And third, quite a few of Abrams’ Republican allies are, as of yesterday, against regime change in Egypt, so it’s not as if this is a partisan issue.

Still, I can only assume this will be the first of many pieces from loyal Bushies, arguing that the failed former president set these events in motion eight years ago. It’s overly simplistic and wrong, but it’ll soon be ubiquitous.