Obama and Democracy

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 12:12 PM EDT

Yesterday Michael Rubin complained that Obama never mentioned democracy in his Cairo speech.  Today he corrects the record: in fact, Obama dedicated an entire section of his speech to democracy.  Then he adds this:

But, I stand by the point of my post: Obama stepped back from demanding accountability at polls....Bush embraced democracy and transformative diplomacy. Many progressives and liberals turned on democratization because they didn’t want to be associated with Bush.  Now that Obama is victorious, it would be a real tragedy for progressivism, liberalism, and human rights if the progressive movement embraced cultural relativism and convinced itself that liberty really didn’t matter.

This is really one of the most annoying of all tropes from the Bush-defending right.  The plain facts here are pretty simple: George Bush talked a lot about democracy, but he was in favor of it only when it produced results he liked.  He was fine with democracy in Ukraine and he was fine with democracy in Lebanon.  He loved the purple fingers in Iraq — though only after the UN and al-Sistani pretty much forced elections on him.  Conversely, when Hamas won an election in Gaza, it was not so fine.  When Musharraf and Mubarak conducted obviously rigged elections in Pakistan and Egypt, his adminstration tut tutted a bit and then went about its business.  To the small extent that Bush was ever truly dedicated to democracy promotion in the first place — and it was never more than purely incidental to the Iraq war project — he had plainly given up on it completely by 2006 at the latest.

George Bush's main achievement in this arena wasn't to promote democracy, it was to completely cement Arab cynicism about America's obvious lack of concern for democracy.  Whether Obama is "stepping back" from this I couldn't say, but he certainly can't do any worse on the democracy promotion front than George Bush.