The Dissident President: Is the Bush Freedom Agenda Dead?

** This commentary appears today at Pajamas Media. **


On January 20, 2005, President George W. Bush laid out in his Second Inaugural Address a revolutionary agenda based on the belief that the survival of liberty in America increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other nations.
President Bush made a pledge to political dissidents and the freedom activists:

“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

And, with that address the revolution began. There was as Orange Revolution in Ukraine, a Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, and a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. It was as if the democracy movements fed off each other. It was a very exciting time.

And, that was just the start of things. Nowhere was there more democratic upheaval than in the Middle East. There were democratic elections in Afghanistan where women were not only allowed to vote but took seats in parliament. There were democratic elections for the first time in the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia released political dissidents. There were Arab democracy conferences in Qatar and women were allowed to vote in Kuwait. Egyptian judges stood up against a regime. Another regime in Libya opened up to the West. And, who could forget the Iraqis walking for miles, braving terrorist death threats for the opportunity to vote in free democratic elections for the very first time. It was very exciting.


Clockwise from top left: Bush promoting religious freedom in China, Bush is posted on placards in Azerbaijan, Bush is mobbed in Albania, Iraqi women carry Bush photos with them to the polling station on election day.

But since that Second Inaugural much has changed on the military battlefields of Iraq and the political battlefields back here at home. And over time America has not kept its word to the politically oppressed on several occasions including the student protests in Iran and the massive democracy demonstrations in Belarus. How did this happen?

This past week in Prague, Czech Republic I had the opportunity to discuss the Bush Freedom Agenda with American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow and former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, Richard Perle .
Here is part of that interview:

Richard Perle talked about the president’s visit to be at the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague, Czech Republic:

Richard Perle: It is not often that head’s of government demonstrate as President Bush did- solidarity with dissidents. However, having said that, almost equally extraordinary is the apparent inability of the Bush Administration to follow up on the president’s vision and implement the president’s vision. It was striking in his remarks yesterday that President Bush said that he was going to instruct the Secretary of State who was in turn going to instruct our ambassadors that they should go out of their way to make contact with dissidents and the oppressed in the countries in which they are assigned where there is no openness, freedom and democracy. What can one say? This should have been happening anyway. It shouldn’t require a presidential instruction. But, I will like to see whether that instruction will be actually issued and whether our ambassadors respond to it. The sad fact is that this president’s Freedom Agenda is outside the bounds of traditional bureaucratic diplomacy and so he’s having a tough time getting his own administration to implement his policies.

Richard Perle sat on a panel earlier at the democracy conference and made basically the same claim- that the president has not been able to push his revolutionary agenda because he is not following up and holding officials accountable within his own administration. This statement rang through the halls of the Czernin Palace.

Even Natan Sharansky, the Soviet political prisoner, human rights activist, former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel and democracy leader, has noticed the democracy recess in the past year. In a recent article at the American Spectator (subscription only) Sharansky explained it this way:

Though the road to democracy has certainly been rocky, what has happened over the last five years does not mean that Arabs are incapable of building a free society any more than the reign of terror or two centuries of slavery meant that the French and Americans were incapable of building a free society.

Read the rest at Pajamas Media

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