George W. Bush
Despite assertions of a strong democracy promotion agenda – by both its proponents and detractors – the central character of George W. Bush’s foreign policy remains the focus of intense debate. Did it fail because it promoted too much democracy or too little? Did it succeed because it embraced the universality of democracy or because it rejected it? During and after Bush’s second term, it was clear to several commentators that the Arab Middle East – the central focus of Bush’s ‘freedom agenda’ – had shown the least democratic improvement.1 In 2011, however, Arab dictatorships began to fall. By February of that year, Barack Obama had joined a war to end the four-decade rule of Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddaﬁ. By August, regimes in Cairo, Tripoli and Tunis had been overthrown and the peoples of Bahrain and Syria were in open revolt. Gaddaﬁ was pulled from a drain and summarily executed. By May 2012 Egypt had held the Arab world’s ﬁrst competitive presidential election and sentenced the ousted Hosni Mubarak to life in prison. This stunning and largely unpredicted revolutionary wave invites the question of how far Bush can be credited with its beginning, even as he seemingly lost faith with its inevitability later in his term. This chapter assesses Bush’s democracy promotion eﬀorts in the Middle East
(with some comparison of eﬀorts elsewhere) and queries, ﬁrst, how far his rhetoric was matched by an operable strategy and, second, how far that strategy can be credited with a catalytic role in the Arab Spring. In Chapter 7 of this book, John Dumbrell asks how far Jimmy Carter could be credited with the unravelling of Soviet communism. In this chapter, we ask a similar question about George W. Bush and the rupturing of Arab autocracy. The chapter’s argument is that Bush’s impact was neither as great as he would like to believe nor as negligible as his opponents insist. This analysis and attendant argument will also allow us to place Bush’s democracy promotion alongside those of his predecessors – and of his successor.