George Bush speaks out on foreign affairs

Former President George Bush does not speak in public very much.  So it was interesting to see his guest commentary in the Wall Street Journal last week.

George Bush

These are extraordinary times in the history of freedom. In the Arab Spring, we have seen the broadest challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism. The idea that Arab peoples are somehow content with oppression has been discredited forever.

Yet we have also seen instability, uncertainty and the revenge of brutal rulers. The collapse of an old order can unleash resentments and power struggles that a new order is not yet prepared to handle.

Some in both parties in Washington look at the risks inherent in democratic change—particularly in the Middle East and North Africa—and find the dangers too great. America, they argue, should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability.

But in the long run, this foreign policy approach is not realistic. It is not within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable. Oppressive governments distrust the diffusion of choice and power, choking off the best source of national prosperity and success.

This is the inbuilt crisis of tyranny. It fears and fights the very human attributes that make a nation great: creativity, enterprise and responsibility. Dictators can maintain power for a time by feeding resentments toward enemies—internal or external, real or imagined. But eventually, in societies of scarcity and mediocrity, their failure becomes evident.

Protesters hold Kingdom of Libya flags and an American flag during an anti-Gaddafi demonstration in Benghazi in March 2011.

America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.

The day when a dictator falls or yields to a democratic movement is glorious. The years of transition that follow can be difficult. People forget that this was true in Central Europe, where democratic institutions and attitudes did not spring up overnight. From time to time, there has been corruption, backsliding and nostalgia for the communist past. Essential economic reforms have sometimes proved painful and unpopular.

It takes courage to ignite a freedom revolution. But it also takes courage to secure a freedom revolution through structural reform. And both types of bravery deserve our support.

This is now the challenge in parts of North Africa and the Middle East. After the euphoria, nations must deal with questions of tremendous complexity: What effect will majority rule have on the rights of women and religious minorities? How can militias be incorporated into a national army? What should be the relationship between a central government and regional authorities?

Problems once kept submerged by force must now be resolved by politics and consensus. But political institutions and traditions are often weak.

We know the problems. But there is a source of hope. The people of North Africa and the Middle East now realize that their leaders are not invincible. Citizens of the region have developed habits of dissent and expectations of economic performance. Future rulers who ignore those expectations—who try returning to oppression and blame shifting—may find an accountability of their own.

As Americans, our goal should be to help reformers turn the end of tyranny into durable, accountable civic structures. Emerging democracies need strong constitutions, political parties committed to pluralism, and free elections. Free societies depend upon the rule of law and property rights, and they require hopeful economies, drawn into open world markets.

This work will require patience, creativity and active American leadership. It will involve the strengthening of civil society—with a particular emphasis on the role of women. It will require a consistent defense of religious liberty. It will mean the encouragement of development, education and health, as well as trade and foreign investment. There will certainly be setbacks. But if America does not support the advance of democratic institutions and values, who will?

In promoting freedom, our methods should be flexible. Change comes at different paces in different places. Yet flexibility does not mean ambiguity. The same principles must apply to all nations. As a country embraces freedom, it finds economic and social progress. Only when a government treats its people with dignity does a nation fulfill its greatness. And when a government violates the rights of a citizen, it dishonors an entire nation.

There is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom. In America, we know something about the difficulty of protecting minorities, of building a national army, of defining the relationship between the central government and regional authorities—because we faced all of those challenges on the day of our independence. And they nearly tore us apart. It took many decades of struggle to live up to our own ideals. But we never ceased believing in the power of those ideals—and we should not today.

  • dangfitz

    The unitary president discussing freedom? Like Bill Clinton discussing marital fidelity.

  • JoelinPDX

    Oppression discredited in the Arab Spring? I think not. The Arabian countries are just trading one kind of oppression for another and in many cases women are the losers. Does anyone really think that Egyptian women, for instance, are better off  under the new regime than they were under Mubarak?

  • Rupert in Springfield

    What a contrast to read this and imagine Obama writing on the same topic. Refreshing to see someone who can conceive of a paragraph about things other than himself.

  • valley dude

    a) Do you really think GWB wrote this himself?

    b) Do you really think GWB has less self regard than Obama?  

    • Rupert in Springfield

       >Do you really think GWB wrote this himself?


      Point here is, Obama couldn’t have left this alone in the same situation, he would have had his writers make it more about him. Just like with say the presidential bios.

      > Do you really think GWB has less self regard than Obama? 


      Are you freaking kidding me?

      You are so blindly partisan in your thinking you cant even admit Obama has a bit of a self absorption problem?

      That’s funny, and I mean scary funny. Doesn’t it ever get dull for you though? Never being able to be critical of your leaders? Never questioning them? Never admitting their flaws, even one as universally acknowledged as BO’s self absorption problem?

      • 3H

        I dunno Rupert, you seem to believe that GWB had the power to lower gas prices simply by talking about drilling.  You invent magical powers for the President from your party.  And you accuse others of having partisan blinders?  Now that is funny.  

        I’m even more amazed at OC’s ability to fearlessly target on the inconsequential and trivial.  They, and you, spend a great deal of time inventing an issue that given the problems we have today is…  meaningless.

        • Rupert in Springfield

          >You invent magical powers for the President from your party.

          Like what? Saying Bush2 was less self absorbed than BO is not inventing magical powers for Bush2.  Its simply stating the obvious.

          The guy wrote his autobiography in his 40’s. Face it, that’s self absorbed by anyone’s standards.

          Don’t be so thin skinned. Admit your guy has some flaws. You’d retain some shred of credibility if you did.

          >And you accuse others of having partisan blinders?

          Considering how often I and others have criticized Bush2 on these pages, this comment is especially stupid. And really lame attempt at topic change as well. Definite fail

          >They, and you, spend a great deal of time inventing an issue that given the problems we have today is…  meaningless.

          A two sentence statement of the obvious is not a great deal of time.

          >that given the problems we have today is…  meaningless.

          BO is basing his entire campaign on invented issues, war on women, gay marriage evolution, Romney haircuts, rather than the economy, which is by far the main issue.

          Do you see how you have left yourself wide open for me to spin you like a top, and force you to do a 180 and defend inventing issues when BO does it? Do you see how I could immediately make you lose any intellectual credibility in a debate if I did this? Maybe take a lesson here?

          Trust me – get off the insults, try to either make your own point, or successfully rebut someone else. The dopey insults routine is not your strong suit. 


          • 3H

            ”  Like what? Saying Bush2 was less self absorbed than BO is not inventing magical powers for Bush2 

            No, like saying that GWB lowered the price of gasoline simply by talking about drilling.  Perhaps you should have read the entire comment.  

            “Admit your guy has some flaws. You’d retain some shred of credibility if you did.

            Evidently you don’t remember, or don’t care to remember, the conversation we had on here where I listed what I considered Obama’s flaws.  Flaws, by the way, that are most likely to keep me from voting for him in November.  

            As to insults, a lecture from you is just too funny.  But, by all means, lead by example.  


      • valley dude

         Obama has about the same level of self absorption of anyone who truly thinks they can be president. No more and no less.

        On the critical thing, I know I’ve told you this before, but your memory is not the best. On this site, the game is that you and OC and a few dozen frequent or occasional posters find anything possible negative to sway about Obama, no matter how ridiculous, while I and a handful or intrepid left of centerites take a few moments to offer a counter perspective. There are lots of things I find less than ideal about Obama. I just don;t feel any need to share these with the likes of yourself. I mean, what would be the point? 

        • 3h

          To feed the frenzy

  • Winston Wong

    Yes, he wrote it.  How do I know?  “inbuilt.”  And, not to be critical of him, but there are a couple of syntax errors a ghostwriter would never make.