No words can do justice to the march of freedom underway in the Middle East and what it took to lead us there. Liberals will not want to hear this, but they know it’s true: What has happened in formerly Saddam’s Iraq and the Taliban’s Afghanistan—which, hopefully, could propel a flowering of freedom in a region more resistant than any other—is a tribute primarily to the efforts of one man: George W. Bush. For students of international relations, the elections in Iraq, capping those in Afghanistan in October, serve as a case study of how individuals, as opposed to larger global-systemic forces, can change events—can alter history.
My conservative friends regularly make comparisons between Bush and Ronald Reagan. Yet, these comparisons yield an important contrast: For Reagan, there will always be debate over who was more responsible for the collapse of the USSR—Reagan or Gorbachev. In George W. Bush’s case, however, there will never be any doubt that he was the source responsible for what has transpired. With Bush, there is no Mikhail Gorbachev. Sure, there are allies like Tony Blair and courageous leaders in Australia, Italy, and Spain. In Bush’s situation, however, the historical debate will focus on those who joined or rejected him. The Howard Deans and Ted Kennedys will be seen as crass, shortsighted men. “No one should try to overhype this election,” said a very small John Kerry of an Iraqi election whose importance cannot be overstated, and who himself was never elected in an election with so high of a voter turnout.
The dilemma for the historian will be to adequately convey the degree to which Bush succeeded and endured: First came the removal of the Taliban, then the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, then the deaths of Uday and Qusay, Saddam’s capture, the Afghan vote, and now the Iraqi elections. All the while, Bush pursued what was widely regarded as impossible. All the while, he was savaged by opponents.
No future biographer will be able to sufficiently chronicle the opposition and white-hot hatred of Bush. The material would be so voluminous and repetitive that no publisher would print it. Let’s just say that it is instructive that while the new mayor of Baghdad says that he would like to build a statue of President Bush as Iraq’s “symbol of freedom,” at DNC headquarters they would like to burn him in effigy.
Maybe the crudest assessment of the Iraqi triumph came from former Clinton administration official Jamie Rubin, who was asked on Fox News about the “potential” of the Iraqi vote. The reporter pondered to Rubin: “I’m trying to think of another instance in history where there was a successful democratic election that was not a catalyst for…positive change, can you?” Rubin growled, “Yeah, Adolf Hitler won in Germany.”
Historians will view the Clinton years as an odd pause between two great international conflicts: the end of the Cold War and the start of the war against murderous Islamic fundamentalism. This hiatus was characterized in George W. Bush’s inaugural as “years of repose, years of sabbatical” between the “shipwreck of communism” and the “day of fire.” Rubin’s flippancy is symbolic of that unremarkable period.
Alas, there is a profoundly interesting element to this historical moment: Those most angrily opposed to Mr. Bush viciously attacked his personal religious faith, which they believe makes him a simpleton. Therein is a rich irony: How did George W. Bush, almost alone, appear to know with certainty that Iraqis and Afghans would brave bombs and bullets in huge percentages to cast ballots—something they had never done before? How was he sure they would literally die to vote? Bush was certain because he is convinced that God has implanted the desire for freedom on the hearts of all human beings regardless of their faith, ethnicity, or where they live—a classic Jeffersonian thought that somehow made the hysterical Left and members of the “Party of Jefferson” apoplectic. In other words, The Dummy’s faith served him correctly. Moreover, like Ronald Reagan—another so-called dummy who also viewed freedom as God’s gift, and who believed that liberty was “contagious”—Bush’s faith gave him the strength and security to weather the storm.
Speaking of that faith, George W. Bush rightly says that only the Author of history truly knows what will ultimately unfold. Democracy in the Middle East might even end with the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan—which still would not dismiss the momentous nature of Bush's achievement. It is to be hoped this momentum will continue. And to those on the Left, I plead: go ahead and curse Mr. Bush, but for the sake of humanity, cheer the liberty he is pursuing.
Paul Kengor is author of God and George W. Bush and God and Ronald Reagan. He is also a professor of political science at Grove City College and a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution.