chapter  2
18 Pages

‘Democratisation’, religious extremism, fragile states, and insurgencies: Bush’s legacies to Obama and the challenges ahead


The administration of George W. Bush pursued an announced policy of democratization in the Greater Middle East. In that era, Washington initiated, or presided over the initiation of, three democratic transitions in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. It also sought to pressure Egypt to adopt more open democratic procedures. By ‘democracy,’ Bush appears to have meant no more than a Schumpeterian process wherein there are regular free elections in which the public chooses its leaders, in which there are winners and losers and in which the losers depart.1 This criterion is therefore a good one whereby to judge the outcomes, even though it has been argued by critics that the definition is thin in leaving out institutions and ideals such as the rule of law that must underpin genuine democracies. Bush’s policies in this regard were referred to as ‘muscular Wilsonianism,’ and were articulated by administration spokesmen within the framework of his ‘war on terror.’ None of the transitions attempted could be called a success, and it could be argued that in important regards all failed. In contrast, two years into the administration of his successor, Barack Obama, many Arab countries have witnessed grassroots movements for democracy that, in the cases of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, seem likely to have some success. Why did Bush’s initiatives fail?