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Those ever-observant Washington Post editorial writers have spotted the demise of President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” in Pakistan. In an editorial yesterday, the Post bewailed President Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of his country’s constitution and said that the Bush Administration’s timid response “mocks” the president’s freedom agenda.
This isn’t the first time the Post has moaned about the demise of the “freedom agenda,” and one suspects it won’t be the last. A little over a month ago op-ed columnist Jackson Diehl wrote about Egyptian newspaper publisher Hisham Kassem, who had recently “spent nearly an hour in the Oval Office with President Bush,” who had spoken “with feeling about his ‘freedom agenda’ and his intention to pursue it after he leaves office.” But Kassem “could not help but feel a little depressed” since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had recently cracked down on independent newspapers and “hardly anyone in Washington seemed to care.”
On September 3, a Post editorial reported that Bush had complained to Egyptian oppositionist Saad Eddin Ibrahim that he “felt like a dissident because of the State Department’s tenacious resistance to his ‘freedom agenda,’ but the Post said Bush was “not a real dissident” since he had barely reacted to the terrible human rights situation in Egypt. On August 6, Diehl spotted betrayal of the “freedom agenda” after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met “with the Arab autocrats of the Middle East in pursuit of an entirely different agenda: ‘security and stability’ for their unfree nations.”
On June 4, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt referred to “George Bush’s wildly ambitious, and thus far stymied, freedom agenda.” A week earlier, Diehl wrote an op-ed citing another alleged Bush betrayal of truth, justice and the American way headlined “Shortchanging Democracy in Ukraine; The President’s ‘Freedom Agenda’ Is Losing Momentum.”
Two months before that, Diehl warned about the erosion of the freedom agenda based on an earlier crackdown by Egypt’s Mubarak, saying the administration’s baffling timidity had “emboldened the aging autocrat.” Go back another two months, to January 17, and a Post editorial said that a “new U.S. policy” of downplaying human rights “betrays President Bush’s freedom agenda, giving a free pass to dictators who support the new geopolitical cause.”
The list of betrayals to the “freedom agenda” goes on and on. In December of 2006, it was (in a Diehl column) administration officials gathering at “a glittering dinner in honor of Mehriban Aliyeva, the visiting first lady of Azerbaijan;” a month earlier (in an op-ed by Richard Holbrooke) the freedom agenda was “at stake” in Georgia, where the United States was not doing enough to help out President Mikheil Saakashvili; in September of 2006, the administration had sold out the freedom agenda in welcoming to the White House the authoritarian ruler of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev; in May of 2006, a Post editorial wondered why the administration would “continue to give nearly $2 billion each year to a government [Egypt’s] that mocks President Bush’s democracy initiative?”
Indeed, the Post has been spotting the Bush Administration making a mockery of the freedom agenda virtually from the moment the policy was declared. In yet another column on the topic, Diehl (discussing the “de facto reversal of Bush’s freedom agenda”) asked, “Who can make sense of this disaster?”
Listen, Diehl, I know I’m not as smart as you are with your fancypants Yale degree, but let me have a crack at it: There never was a freedom agenda. Bush simply repackaged rhetoric used by past administrations about America’s commitment to democracy abroad, and cut the same deals they did that gave a free pass to dictators willing to support American foreign policy objectives.
Outside of American newspaper editorial pages, the “freedom agenda” is a joke. Pro-American despots across the globe know they’ll pay no consequences for jailing opponents and cracking down on the press, which is why they do it so routinely and scornfully. But rest assured, the next time a Bush-friendly dictator tightens the screws, the Post editorial page will once again bemoan the administration’s lack of action and scratch its collective head and wonder how things went so terribly, terribly wrong.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”