Liberal critics laughed at President George W. Bush for advocating democracy in Arab countries. Now they are lambasting him and President Barack Obama for not doing enough to coax President Hosni Mubarak into bringing democracy to Egypt.
But former CIA Director Michael Hayden remembers a conversation with Mubarak in 2008 that illustrates what the U.S. has faced.
|Ex-CIA Chief Michael Hayden
“There’s no question that Bush had impact on him, because in my last trip to Egypt, Omar Suleiman, his intelligence chief who is now vice president, asked me to stay an extra day to see Mubarak,” Hayden tells Newsmax. “We met with Mubarak on a Saturday morning at the Presidential Palace. It was me and several folks from the agency.”
The meeting went on for 90 minutes. As it turned out, the subject was Bush’s constant references, as part of his so-called Freedom Agenda, to the need to free Arab countries of despots. Mubarak was not happy with what Bush was pushing, illustrated by an address Bush gave on Nov. 19, 2003, in London.
“We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East,” Bush said back then at Whitehall Palace. “Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability . . .”
Referring to the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq, Bush said, “As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.”
Now, Bush said, “we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.”
Despite their professed concern for the impoverished and oppressed, those words from Bush brought derision from liberal critics, who lambasted Bush for his position.
“Policy experts say the Middle East is an exception to the notion that people desire democracy,” Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security advisor, told me for my book “A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush.”
“The president says he doesn’t believe that,” Hadley said. “It’s like the soft bigotry of low expectations about whether blacks and Hispanics can learn to read. It’s unseemly and wrong.”
At the meeting with Mubarak, the Egyptian president emphatically criticized Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for pushing that agenda.
“It was Mubarak, not meanly, but clearly with some force, giving me the what for for what Condi Rice and President Bush were doing and saying with regard to democracy in Egypt,” Hayden says.
Mubarak would politely say he is sure Bush and Rice believe strongly in what they are saying. At the same time, Hayden says, “Mubarak would kind of lean over towards me and kind of put his hand on my arm and say, ‘Now general, I’m not talking about you but, you know, I have to say this.’”
As CIA director, it was not Hayden’s job to debate the issue. “We didn’t get into a contest about you’re heading for a crash here, big guy,” Hayden says. Instead, he said he would pass on President Mubarak's views.
Often, simply raising an issue or challenging the status quo, as Bush did, can be enough to start a revolution. Most people know that President Ronald Reagan put an end to the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union. But most people do not know that the spark that led to the collapse of communism ignited 12 years earlier, when Pope John Paul II paid his first visit to his native Poland after ascending to the papacy.
When the Vatican announced that the Pope planned to travel to Poland in June of 1979, Soviet authorities were aghast. Religion had no place in the communist system. The emergence of a religious leader threatened Soviet control of the country. The beloved pontiff’s words gave Poles courage and hope, leading them to recognize that they could free themselves from the shackles of communism.
Sixteen months after the Pope’s visit, Poles formed a union called Solidarity, allowing them to organize free from state control. Ultimately, a chain of events unfolded that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Mikhail Gorbachev’s acquiescence to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
While he isn’t trying to defend Mubarak, Hayden points out how important an ally he has been.
“Here is a guy who made peace with Israel, maintained relations with Israel. Israel had an embassy in Cairo, for God’s sake,” Hayden says. “Mubarak certainly was concerned about the Iranians and al-Qaida,” he says. “You can imagine that they were a good intelligence partner. Somebody deserves credit for having the largest Christian minority in the Arab world. The Christian church has been relatively safe and prosperous in Egypt.”
When critics say the U.S. should have done more, Hayden says he is not sure what that means.
“Your tools are limited,” Hayden says. “The relationship produced a lot of good things. But Mubarak just was blind towards what we were pointing out to him was an inevitable problem with regards to the need to democratize.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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