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Posted at 1:10 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Setting the record straight: Conservatives are the authors of the freedom agenda

By Jennifer Rubin

As other conservatives and I have done, Eugene Robinson raps the knuckles of Republican CPAC speakers who barely spoke about Egypt. But then he presents an incomplete and ultimately misleading picture of conservatives' approach to Egypt, suggesting conservatives haven't supported the Egyptian revolution.

Let's recall that the freedom agenda, the far-sighted vision championed by George W. Bush and largely opposed by every prominent liberal pol and pundit, put forth the idea that the Arab world was fully capable of embracing democracy and that it was folly to rely on alliances with tottering despots in the mistaken belief that they offered stability. It is this agenda that so many conservatives have continued to champion while bitterly criticizing the short-sightedness of Obama's Muslim outreach gambit (i.e. coddling dictators). Egypt has been no different.

Let's note just a few of the pro-Egyptian revolution figures and groups Eugene left out -- Sen. John McCain (R- Ariz.), the conservative members of the Egypt Working Group, the Foreign Policy Initiative and House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). Who had been most critical of Obama's lackadaisical reaction to the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections? Conservatives. It wasn't the Nation that led the journalistic attack on Obama's timidity on Egypt; it was the Weekly Standard.

And by the way, among the presidential candidates, I would highlight Tim Pawlenty's outing on "Meet the Press," in which he excoriated the administration for a multiplicity of voices on Egypt and came out foursquare in favor of democracy.

Eugene is right that there has been timidity and opposition in some Republican quarters on Egypt. There is no denying that there remains an isolationist strain in conservative circles, but it is neither the predominant view nor the position adopted by Republican House and Senate leadership. So let's be fair: The strongest and most consistent voices in favor of democracy in Egypt and throughout the Middle East have been on the right, namely among the much maligned neoconservatives. They were after all roundly vilified for pushing for democracy not only in the Middle East but around the globe -- until even the Obama administration could no longer pretend that "engagement" of autocrats is the key to peace and stability.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 15, 2011; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Comments

I wonder if this blog post will be enough to get shingo out from under his rock. I haven't seen the shingo slide off in a few days so I'm hopeful.

I read many conservative blogs and I didn't notice a theme of isolationism. that position is more akin to the Paul Pere et Fil team.

What I have encountered is a sober assessment of the potential denouements in Egypt. It is simple prudence to recognize that the revolution may fail of its democratic promise for reasons that are general to revolutions or specific to the region.

We cannot ignore the looming threat of fundamentalist Islam. The brotherhood is every bit as aware of the concept of taqiyya as another muslim agitators. That they say soothing things now doesn't prove that they actually believe them. Remember how two faced Khommeni was? He assured the Iranians that no theocracy was under consideration even while he was working to install it.

Duplicity is simply part of the arab/muslim culture. We cannot control events so we must hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | February 15, 2011 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Jen, is it lonely in fantasyland?

Posted by: jckdoors | February 15, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Jen, your point respecting Eugene's piece is entirely compelling but your jibe about "an isolationist strain in conservative circles" while accurate to some extent completely fails to acknowledge the views of people like Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Charles Krauthammer and others who have been circumspect in respect of Egypt for some of the reason suggested by skipsailing28 above.

There is no question that over the last 30, last 10 years and in the present crisis conservatives have been much more consistent and effective advocates of Democracy and freedom then liberals and have on occasion even followed through on that advocacy with some vigour. Still, the multifarious bumbling of the Obami in this case and the absurd attempt to ascribe to them any credit for the "good" outcome does not change the fact that there was serious reflection among conservative internationalists on this issue.

Posted by: cavalier4 | February 15, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Skip Sailing/"I read many conservative blogs."

Correction:you read many Neo-conservative blogs like this one. Buckley is dead,there is no Conservative movement left in America
(1)The GOP isn't Conservative
(2)The Libertarians aren't Conservative
(3)The Neo-Cons are still Trotskyites pushing exceptionalism as a Utopian solution to all that oppose NeoCon Preemptive,Martial,Imperialistic Exceptionalism. The enemies are the peaceful socialists of West Europe,and Islamists everywhere. And NeoCon financing is provided by Communist China.

Posted by: rcaruth | February 15, 2011 2:51 PM | Report abuse

now rcaruth arrogates to himself the right to decide what it is that I actually do in a day.

Futher, rcaruth has established himself as the benchmark of conservatism in America. Anyone who disagrees with rcaruth is just not what he would call a conservative.

I hardly think so.

While I disagree with Rich Lowry and have said so to his face, I believe that National Review is conservative. Powerline certainly is conservative. Neither outlet professes any kind of isolationism. Quite the contrary. As I noted it is Paul, Pere et Fil who believe in isolationism. Perhaps buchanan too but I don't read him at all and since I watch zero TV I don't see his statements on the moron-o-scope either.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | February 15, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Skip,Read and Learn,it's painful

http://polizeros.com/2008/02/04/wapo-neocon-movement-began-with-leon-trotsky/

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&biw=1020&bih=534&q=neocons+%26+Trotsky&btnG=Google+Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=

Posted by: rcaruth | February 15, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer,
this is for you;here are your antecedents

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2008/02/01/GR2008020102389.html
The Neocons: An Illustrated Progression
From exile to redemption to exile again: a history of "militaristic idealists" known as neocons.


Posted by: rcaruth | February 15, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

this column is the most mudane boring talking points ever put together.

Posted by: newagent99 | February 15, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: skipsailing28 | February 15, 2011 1:36 PM

I wonder if this blog post will be enough to get shingo out from under his rock. I haven't seen the shingo slide off in a few days so I'm hopeful.

__________________

Hope if for fool Skip. Here I am. ;-)


"I read many conservative blogs and I didn't notice a theme of isolationism."

That's because you confuse conservatism with right wing interventionism.

"We cannot ignore the looming threat of fundamentalist Islam."

Fundamentalist Islam is no looming threat. After all, we're best friends with Saudi Arabia.

"That they say soothing things now doesn't prove that they actually believe them."

Yeah, but the problem is that if you want to base your arguments on what people say, then you don't get to cherry pick which parts are valid and which are not.

"Remember how two faced Khommeni was? He assured the Iranians that no theocracy was under consideration even while he was working to install it."

Really? Khommeni said no theocracy was under consideration? Where did you get that?

"Duplicity is simply part of the arab/muslim culture."

Yes, all politicians the world over do it, but it's unique to Arab/Muslim culture.

Got it.

"We cannot control events so we must hope for the best and plan for the worst."

And in the mean time, we can try minding our own business and see how that works.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 15, 2011 7:10 PM | Report abuse

This is a truly pathetic piece Jennifer. Bush was a huge supporter of Mubarak, yet you are trying to claim credit on Bush's behalf for the events n Egypt?

No one is buying it.

Neocons like to pretend that they are ‘dreaming of democracy’, to borrow George Packer’s phrase. But David Frum made it clear in early 2003 what they actually wanted and expected from the Iraq invasion: “An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, – and a replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States – would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans.”

So much for a Conservative Freedom agenda.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 15, 2011 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Facts are stubborn things - even for the alleged "reality-based" left.

Bush: In his proposed 2009 budget, Bush proposed spending $45 million on democracy and good-governance programs in Egypt, including more than $20 million on promoting civil society. Unlike his predecessors, under Bush the the money for these programs did not go to groups approved by the Mubarak government.

Obama: In his 2009 budget Obama halved the money for democracy promotion in Egypt and the civil society funds were slashed 70 percent, to $7 million - money that was once again given only to those groups approved by Mubarak.

Posted by: paco33 | February 15, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: paco33 | February 15, 2011 8:21 PM

Bush: In his proposed 2009 budget, Bush proposed spending $45 million on democracy and good-governance programs in Egypt, including more than $20 million on promoting civil society.

______________________

To whom was the money given Paco? Government bodies of course, all of whom ultimately lead back to Mubarak.

More importantly, Bush was giving the Mubarak dictatorship 2 billion annually at the time and applauding his efforts to "introduce democratic reforms".

Wink wink.

While Obama deserves to credit, the bribe money paid to Mubarak under his watch decreased to 1.3 billion.

So that means Bush was giving 650 million more to suport the dictator that Obama.

Yep, those facts are sure stubborn aren't they?


Unlike his predecessors, under Bush the the money for these programs did not go to groups approved by the Mubarak government.

Obama: In his 2009 budget Obama halved the money for democracy promotion in Egypt and the civil society funds were slashed 70 percent, to $7 million - money that was once again given only to those groups approved by Mubarak.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 15, 2011 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Shingo: It's facts that are stubborn. Myths and fictions, however, are quite malleable. Who received the civil society money appropriated under Bush? Not the government bodies controlled by Mubarak as you claim but NGO's. Here they are: the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, the United Group, the Egyptian Association for Developing and Disseminating Legal Awareness, the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democracy, the New Horizons Association for Social Development, and the Alliance for Arab Women.

Is Ibn Khaldun a Mubarak lackey? Nope. Don't take my word for it - here's Al-Ahram's description in 2005 (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/733/eg2.htm): "Ibrahim spent more than a year behind bars before being exonerated in 2003 on charges related to election monitoring activities. His incarceration sparked a crisis in Egyptian-US relations, with Washington withholding $350 million in assistance aimed at softening the blow of a 2001 UN embargo on Iraq on Egypt's economy...Khaldun will use the money to support political and electoral rights -- the same kind of activity that led to Ibrahim's woes in the summer of 2000, just three months prior to parliamentary elections. Last December, Ibrahim announced that his centre planned to monitor parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005, whatever the legal cost. He has also said he plans to run against President Hosni Mubarak."

Here's an example of a fiction - your claim that Obama has reduced US aid to Egypt by $650M. You're confusing US aid to their military with the level of overall aid. The level under Obama is about $2B - around the same it's been since 1979. It's the military aid that's 1.3B - the same amount under Bush and every other president since 1979.

That is the fact, stubborn as it may be.

Posted by: paco33 | February 16, 2011 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Paco33,

Mubarak controlled very aspect of Egyptian existence, therefore any NGO that was operating in Egypt was doing so with his permission. In a society where people were afraid to criticise Mubarak, for fear of a mid night visit from the secret police, there is no way an NGO will function without official approval.

If you want to get picky about how much aid is given to Egypt, the numbers vary year to year but averages 2 billion annually, so I stand corrected in that regard.,

The number was much higher than 2 billion in 2010. $1.3 billion went to Egyptian forces. $250 million was economic aid. Another $1.9 million went for training meant to bolster long-term U.S.-Egyptian military cooperation. Egypt also receives hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of excess military hardware annually from the Pentagon.

The fact remains that whatever crumbs Bush gave to ahem “promote democracy” was nothing but a token gesture, given that Mubark was receiving 40 times as much every year. Bush had no interest in democracy because US policy was not interested in demo racy ever since 1979.

Posted by: Shingo1 | February 16, 2011 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Shingo:
I couldn't disagree more with your view but I appreciate your thoughtful response. I also appreciate that I'm not the only one posting comments after midnight.

Ms. Rubin's post claims that "conservatives are the authors of the freedom agenda." Contrast Bush's promotion of democracy with Obama's. As measured by financial commitment, promoting democracy in Egypt was far more of a priority for Bush than Obama. And when it comes to rhetorical support (which can be just as meaningful if not more), please contrast Bush's 2008 speech at Sharm el Sheikh (http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2008/05/20080518-6.html) with Obama's 2009 Cairo speech (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-cairo-university-6-04-09). To me there's no doubt that promoting democracy in Egypt was a much bigger priority for Bush - not fact, just opinion.

Posted by: paco33 | February 16, 2011 1:26 AM | Report abuse

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