Friday, September 21, 2012

Abandoning The Freedom Agenda

Cris Bouroncle/AFP -- Getty Images
For decades, Republicans were known as the "daddy party" and the Democrats as the "mommy party". The Republicans earned the "daddy" label by being perceived as stronger on national security and defense. However, recent polling shows the public's perception may be changing.

Two factors account for the shift in public opinion. The first is Obama's record on fighting terrorism. Osama bin Ladin is dead. Also, Obama has been much more aggressive than Bush as far as using of drones.

The other factor is the GOP's foolish decision to walk away from the Freedom Agenda. Worse. Not only has the GOP walked away from the Freedom Agenda. Now they seem to be openly cheering for the Arab Spring to fail just so they can criticize the Obama administration.

This could not be more obvious than during the recent attacks in Libya. Before all the facts were known, the Romney campaign eagerly tried to score political points over the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The attack on the American embassy in Egypt was blamed on Obama's decision to turn his back on Hosni Mubarak. Never mind that it was Bush who funded anti-Mubarak groups and Obama actually cut their funding.

Many on the Right are pointing to Obama's Cairo speech as the culprit responsible for rise to power by the Muslim Brotherhood. But they forget another speech delivered in Cairo by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In 2005, she said:
"For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."
And that is what is so frustrating. For all the criticism that Obama hurled at Bush for his "neocon" foreign policy, his administration is essentially pursuing the same strategy of ensuring America's long term security through the spread of freedom in the Middle East. The Republican party should be screaming "vindication" instead of insisting that Obama is weak or pursuing a foreign policy that is fundamentally different from Bush. This would be the smart political tactic.

Instead, the GOP seems to have adopted a strategy that relies on amnesia. Pretending that Bush never existed as they did during their recent convention. This approach has only resulted in giving the Democrats an opening to become the party of national security.

As the images of violent mobs burning our flag flash across our screens, it is very tempting to say to let's just pack up and leave. Stop the foreign aid. Many blame our military interventions for creating enemies around the world. I disagree. It has been our hypocrisy that has created ill will towards us. For decades, we talked democracy, freedom and yet supported oppressive regimes in the name of stability or containing communism.

The Bush Administration started the process of rectifying that mistake with its Freedom Agenda. This is not the time to retreat. This is the time to stay engaged and make sure that the Middle East stays on course towards self-determination. This does not mean more military interventions. It doesn't mean forcing our values on others. It means more trade, more diplomacy. It means countries developing their own democratic traditions.

If we were to leave the Middle East it will create a vacuum which will be filled by others. Whom and what the consequences will be is unknown. But it is important to remember that after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, we left that country and the vacuum was filled by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. As former Defense Secretary Bob Gates recently said, "No matter how many times we say "never again" to particular kinds of military operations, America's adversaries will always have a vote".

It may be too late for the GOP to claim "vindication". It may be too late for Republicans to reclaim their historical advantage on matters of national security.  Again, walking away leaves a vacuum and others will fill it. The GOP walked away and now the Democrats are enjoying being the daddy and mommy party.