George Bush had good reason to feel vindicated in his Iraq policy when making tje State of the Union address February 2. The public's turnout January 29 in Iraq's first democratic election in fifty years marked the climax of a year-long gamble by the administration to turn over the reins of government to Iraqis while coping with the largest insurgency American troops have encountered since the Vietnam War.
Even the New York Times, which opposed Bush's reelection and condemned his Iraq policies, complimented him on the election's outcome: "He has a right to feel triumphant." The paper also complimented Iraqis for "showing awesome courage and fierce determination to shape their own future."["Next Steps in Iraq," Feb.3, p. A22]
The president reminded Americans that Iraq's positive vote was the fourth success story for democracy in recent months. In Afghanistan a historic election established a democratic government headed by President Hamid Karzai who is gradually gaining control over a country long dominated by warlords and the Taliban.
In December Palestinian voters elected a new government headed by Mahmoud Abbas to replace the corrupt and pro-terrorist one headed by Yasser Arafat, who died recently. There is now an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to end the violence and negotiate a real peace that establishes a state of Palestine and secure borders for Israel.
In Ukraine a fraudulent election for president was overturned following massive protests in the streets of Kiev by voters demanding an honest election. They finally prevailed, with support from Washington and the European Union, and President Victor Yushchenko was installed as the country's legitimate leader.
Still, these laudable successes for democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia do not overcome a key political problem that George Bush faces in Iraq this year.
Some Democrats, notably Senator Edward Kennedy, want the president to announce a firm timetable for withdrawal of American troops, an "exit strategy." Senator John Kerry and other Democrats don't go that far, but they support a big reduction in U.S. troops and a much greater effort to train Iraq's security forces.
Many Democrats who opposed the Iraq war are not satisfied.
Howard Dean, an anti-war contender for the party's presidential nomination a year ago, willnow head the influential Democratic National Committee. The former Vermont governor insists on the quick withdrawal of all U.S. troops, a position supported by Senator Barbara Boxer and a few other Democrats in Congress..
A foreign policy dilemma for Bush in his second term involves the high priority he now gives to promoting democracy throughout the Middle East,
Skeptics claim he's indulging in overblown rhetoric, that neither his Inauguration speech last month nor his State of the Union address were intended to pressure friendly regimes to hold free elections. Others say he was simply stating general support for democratic values in America's ideological war with Islamic fundamentalists.
Condoleezza Rice could not have been clearer during her Senate confirmation hearing that the president is deeply serious about pressing friendly governments as well as adversaries in the Middle East to change their ways because, she said, it is in their own self interest. Rice fully supported the president's views and pledged to use her new diplomatic role to press his policy.
The real issue here is not the validity of Bush's aspirations for the spread of democracy, but the political and economic price he will pay to implement this policy, in China, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, to name five key countries with authoritarian regimes. Is he willing, for example, to risk seeing Egypt withdraw from sponsoring talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to negotiate a peace agreement, if Washington encourages opposition groups who want President Hosni Mubarak to step down?
More important, is the White House prepared to push Iran to the point of war in order to persuade its anti-democratic Islamic clerics to permit a democratically elected parliament to exercise real authority?
The term "defiant superpower" may be an appropriate way to describe George Bush's foreign policy as he begins his second term. Will he persist in acting unilaterally whenever it suits his view of America's national interests and ignore the views of European allies and the United Nations?" Will he confront friendly Arab regimes while promoting democracy around the world?
The public waits to see how Secretary of State Rice deals with U.S. allies and friends in the coming months and how well she is supported by the White House.. It will be interesting to learn if she now reasserts the State Department's influence in foreign policy, in a second Bush administration, after four years in which Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon had an ascendant role.
File last modified on Monday, 15-FEB-2005 06:10 PM EST