Several Bush administration officials have looked to the recent crisis in Egypt in another attempt to rehabilitate former President George W. Bush’s image. In a January 30 Washington Post op-ed, former Bush national security advisor Elliott Abrams argued that the “Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world,” claiming that the demonstrations prove Bush’s “freedom agenda” was right about those dastardly Arab dictators.
Never missing an opportunity to attack Obama and defend Bush, Fox News hosted Bush’s former press secretary Dana Perino to back up Abrams charges.
But was Bush the champion of democracy in Egypt? Hardly. Indeed, he was one of Mubarak’s biggest cheerleaders.
Let’s take a look at the facts. Abrams twice cites a November 6, 2003, speech Bush gave on democracy in the Middle East as proof that Bush was way ahead of the game in calling for freedom in Egypt. In fact, in that very speech Bush declared that Egypt “should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.” From the speech:
BUSH: The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East. (Applause.) Champions of democracy in the region understand that democracy is not perfect, it is not the path to utopia, but it’s the only path to national success and dignity. [George W. Bush White House Archives, 11/6/03]
And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Here’s a sampling:
- Bush praises Egypt’s progress on “democratic reform.” During a 2008 visit to Egypt, Bush repeatedly praised President Mubarak for his leadership in “the freedom and justice movement” and declared that the United States’ friendship with Egypt was “one of the main cornerstones of our policy in this region, and it’s based on our shared commitment to peace, security and prosperity.” He further stated:
BUSH: [Egypt is] an important stop for me because the United States has a longstanding friendship with Egypt. It’s important for the people of Egypt to understand our nation respects you, respects your history, respects your traditions and respects your culture. Our friendship is strong. It’s a cornerstone of — one of the main cornerstones of our policy in this region, and it’s based on our shared commitment to peace, security and prosperity.
BUSH: I also talked about Egypt’s role in the world. Egypt is an important nation — that sends a clear signal. People watch Egypt. I appreciate very much the long and proud tradition that you’ve had for a vibrant civil society. I appreciate the fact that women play an important role in your society, Mr. President. I do so because not only I’m a proud father of two young professional women, I also know how important it is for any vibrant society to have women involved in constructive and powerful ways. And I appreciate the example that your nation is setting.
Progress toward greater political openness is being led by the Egyptians themselves, by pioneering journalists — some of whom even may be here — bloggers, or judges insisting on independence, or other strong civic and religious leaders who love their country and are determined to build a democratic future.
Because of the predominate role you play, and because I strongly believe that Egypt can play a role in the freedom and justice movement — you and I have discussed the issue, you have taken steps toward economic openness — and I discussed that with your Prime Minister — and democratic reform. And my hope is that the Egyptian government will build on these important steps, and give the people of this proud nation a greater voice in your future. I think it will lead to peace, and I think it will lead to justice.
Our friendship with Egypt is deep and broad. Egypt will continue to be a vital strategic partner of the United States. We will work together to build a safer and more peaceful world. And, Mr. President, I thank your leadership on the issue of peace and security. [George W. Bush White House Archive, 1/16/08]
- Bush: “I continue to hope that Egypt can lead the region in political reform.” In May 2008 remarks before the World Economic Forum, Bush again highlighted Egypt as a role model for the Middle East:
BUSH: Taking your place as a center of progress and achievement requires economic reform. This is a time of strength for many of your nations’ economies. Since 2004, economic growth in the region has averaged more than 5 percent. Trade has expanded significantly. Technology has advanced rapidly. Foreign investment has increased dramatically. And unemployment rates have decreased in many nations. Egypt, for example, has posted strong economic growth, developed some of the world’s fastest growing telecommunications companies, and made major investments that will boost tourism and trade. In order for this economic progress to result in permanent prosperity and an Egypt that reaches its full potential, however, economic reform must be accompanied by political reform. And I continue to hope that Egypt can lead the region in political reform. [George W. Bush White House Archive, 5/18/08]
- Bush: Egypt “will set the standard in the region for democracy.” During a 2004 visit with Mubarak, Bush said:
BUSH: Our nations have a relationship that is strong and warm. Our people share the bonds of friendship, a commitment to prosperity and peace and regional stability. Egypt is a strategic partner of the United States and we value President Mubarak’s years of effort on behalf of the peace and stability of the Middle East.
BUSH: President Mubarak and I spoke about the future of the region and of Egypt. Just as Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, it will set the standard in the region for democracy by strengthening democratic institutions and political participation.
I’m encouraged by the ongoing debate on reform in Egypt, including the excellent discussions involving civil society representatives from the Arab world who met at the Alexandria Library in March. And President Mubarak can be confident in my friendship and America’s partnership as he moves forward to realize the hopes of his people.
I welcome my good friend, Hosni, to my home. Our countries have three decades of solid, beneficial relations behind us, and the United States will continue to work with Egypt and the Arab world in a spirit of common purpose and mutual respect. [George W. Bush White house Archive, 4/12/04]
Needless to say, the Bush administration did not target Egypt as part of its so-called Middle East “freedom agenda,” but rather, they relied on Egypt to help them to implement it. Despite the occasional criticism of Murabak’s suppression of political opposition, they by no means held Egypt up as an “Arab” “dictatorship” that needed to forge the path to democracy. Indeed, the Bush administration far more consistently pointed to Egypt as the potential Middle Eastern model of democracy.
The right must really be counting on people to have short memories—and no access to the internet—if they want us to believe that the Egyptian protests show that “Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world.”
From Fox & Friends: