Former President George W. Bush made a rare appearance in Washington, D.C. today on behalf of George W. Bush Institute which promotes universal freedom and houses the “Freedom Collection”, an archive of video testimonial by activists in freedom movements the world over. Amongst those who provided testimonials include the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson and Kang Chol-Hwan who survived a decade in a North Korean labor camp and wrote about his experiences in the book Aquariams of Pyongyang (which I highly recommend).
The event included a video interview with newly elected Burmese parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi and was attended by dissidents from around the globe. I second Elliot Abrams when he writes, “The support that Bush and his wife Laura, who spoke as well and who took a special interest in ending the dictatorship in Burma, gave to such dissidents is notably absent today.”
However, I was troubled by the former President’s enthusiasm for the Arab Spring especially when he said, “America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on.”
The problem with that, of course, what side we’re on doesn’t come down to a choice of good and bad but rather a choice between bad and worse. More often than not, kicking out the old and bringing in the new does not bring with it more freedom. In Egypt, we’re choosing the Muslim Brotherhood over a military regime. In Libya, we chose al Qaeda over Colonel Qaddafi. In Syria, we may choose al Qaeda over Assad. Of course, we rid Iraq of the Stalinesque Saddam Hussein only to replace it with an Iranian puppet which has driven Iraqi Christians out of the country. It is difficult to promote universal freedom in Muslim countries that would deny the most basic freedoms to non-Muslims not to mention the ancient schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
This isn’t to say that Bush’s endeavors aren’t noble and I think they can be helpful in places like Burma, Cuba or Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, humanity is seldom black and white but rather shades of grey covered in crimson.