Michael Gerson begins his column this morning (there is a problem with the Post website so I can’t provide a link) with a list of those cities attacked by Islamicist fanatics since 9/11: London, Madrid, Bali and now Mumbai. The list is familiar but it is strange to see a former GOP operative reciting it. Gerson worked as a speechwriter and senior policy advisor at the Bush White House from 2001 to 2006 and during that time he was responsible for crafting one of the most deceptive justifications for war in American history: If we don’t fight them there (Iraq), we will have to fight them here (America). Of course, there was no such binary choice, and it is not at all clear that the war in Iraq has not aided the terrorists strategically.
But, the Gerson line was worse than deceptive. After the bombings in London and Madrid and Bali it was morally repugnant. Suggesting that the war was justified so that we would not have to battle the terrorists on the home front while our allies and friends were battling them on their home front undid much of the support America received after 9/11, from NATO’s invoking Article Five of its charter for the first time to the headline "We are all Americans Now" in leading European newspapers on September 12, 2001. The attacks on London and Madrid and Bali challenged the narrative Gerson had crafted and they did not have the decency to change it.
George W. Bush sullied almost everything he undertook. His is the anti-Midas touch. But, it would be wrong to conclude that all of the policies Bush pursued are wrong-headed simply because he pursued them in wrong-headed ways. Nowhere is this more true than in the Mideast which is why a new report by the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations – "Restoring the Balance: A Mideast Strategy for the Next President" - is so important. The document has none of the shrillness of a campaign text and all of the weightiness that goes into such tracts. This is not light reading.
Of special importance is a chapter co-authored by Isobel Coleman and Tamara Cofman Wittes on pursuing economic and political development in the region. Bush, Cheney & Co. had thought you could bring Jeffersonian democracy to Iraq with the 101st Airborne but the beneficiaries of Bush v. Gore can be excused for overlooking the complicatedness of democracy. Coleman and Wittes point out, however, that just because Bush got it wrong doesn’t mean that efforts to bring the Arab world into the 21st century politically can be neglected. (I would settle for the 18th century!)
There is within the imagination of the Left in America a perverse unwillingness to advocate for Western ideals and indeed in some circles an enthrallment with non-Western ways that is superficial and distorting. Ask the neighbor who announces over cocktails that he has abandoned his Christianity and become a Tibetan Buddhist although he has never been to Tibet nor studied anything more complicated than "World Religions for Dummies." There is, as well, a fetish for Palestinian nationalism, often tinged with anti-Semitism, which excuses violence against Israel even though she is America’s best ally and the only country in the region where any Westerner would want to live if they value the freedoms we take for granted. The Brookings document puts a nail into the coffins of such foolishness.
"The United States no longer faces a choice between supporting democratization and economic liberalization or protecting a mythic status quo," write Coleman and Wittes. "The region is already in the midst of transition." And they make the case for sustained U.S. involvement in bringing about these desired outcomes. When homosexuals are still stoned to death and women are still refused the most basic of rights and there is no semblance of trial by jury or a right to political expression, we have a moral obligation to hasten the arrival of modernity in the Mideast. Just because Bush messed it up doesn’t mean Obama should turn away from the task anymore than New Orleans should be allowed to slip into the Mississippi River just because Bush mishandled the relief effort after Katrina.