Well, at least one of its more, shall we say, “anti-Bush” writers, Christopher Dickey. He sees a permanent, structural shift word democracy in the Middle East. “So, say the despots, this wave of rising expectations about freedom and democracy will pass. They’ve seen it all before,” writes Dickey. But this time, he senses something different.
Well, not this time. The whole political environment has changed in the Middle East. Partly that’s because of 9/11; partly it’s because of President George W. Bush’s policies; partly it’s in spite of them. Bush did, after all, not send grunts like the men and women in “Gunner Palace” on a crusade for freedom. He sent them to Iraq to eliminate the supposedly clear and present danger Saddam Hussein posed with all that WMD, which wasn’t there, and the terror networks, which didn’t exist. (At least, not then.) So by late 2003 and early 2004, when “Gunner Palace” was shot, our troops were becoming rebel targets without a cause.
As Dickey points out, during the 2003-2004 period, the US forces in Iraq took a rollercoaster ride in popularity and success. From a peak in May of 2003, to a valley in July 2004, the coalition forces as documented in the film “Gunner Palace” saw the best and worst of combat. Eventually, though, as Dickey points out, the war reached a tipping point.
But Bush’s stay-the-course rhetoric, which sometimes sounded like an end in itself, meant the troops had to keep fighting. And gradually, even grudgingly, they found their cause. Or, better said, their cause found them. Now that Bush has embraced freedom and democracy in the Middle East publicly, repeatedly, unequivocally—in his Inaugural Address, his State of the Union Message and his speech in Brussels—and now that he’s saying this is what 1,500 Americans have died for in Iraq, this is not a cause he can easily turn away from.
While Dickey doesn’t belabor the point of Bush’s steadfastness, he should. The difference this time–the tipping point in this expedition–is George W. Bush. America’s numerous failed attempts at making the world safe for democracy trace to repeated shortsightedness of American leadership. At the risk of denigrating one of my heroes, Ronald Reagan allowed terrorists to drive us out of Lebanon. Jimmy Carter allowed radicals to drive us out of Iran. George H. W. Bush allowed the UN to drive us out of Iraq in 1991. Bill Clinton allowed al Qaeda to drive us out of Somalia.
As Reagan rightly pointed out, the world watches the United States and takes careful notes. From 1969 to 1999, those notes added up to one conclusion: the Americans get quickly bored and go home. They make a mess and leave it for others to clean up, as F. Scott Fitzgerald described rich people in “The Great Gatsby:”
``They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness."
Again, though, this time it’s different. This American leader, crticized for stubbornness and lack of intellectual curiosity, has put those two qualities to good use by finally breaking out of the Tom and Daisy pattern America had fallen into. Finally, America is seeing something through, and the world’s dictators take notice.
What others are saying:
InDC Journal notices that the pop culture takes notes, as do dictators.
UPDATE: I was so giddy about the Christopher Dickey’s about-face on the Middle East that I missed Howard Fineman’s piece. Disguised as a shot at Social Security reform, Fineman, too, notices that Bush has changed the world. (My words, not his.)