Joe Biden on the Wrong Side of Middle East History
George W. Bush must be smiling. It started with Afghanistan, then Iraq, Tunisia and now Egypt. The Arab youth are defying Joe Biden and the rest of the American foreign policy “establishment” and proving that their demands are legitimate.
Egyptian students, doctors, lawyers, and the unemployed are showing that democracy is attainable for the Middle East and that Arabs, too, deserve to live in freedom and prosperity. Tunisia’s revolution was quick, Egypt’s was forceful and resolute. All eyes are on Algeria, Palestine, Yemen, and Jordan whose youth seem to be simmering in the same way. Like it or not, George Bush was right and Joe Biden was wrong.
President George W. Bush’s vision for democracy in the Middle East may be coming true. Bush spoke often about how generations of committed freedom fighters worked together to bring down Communism throughout Eastern Europe. And Bush used it as an example to suggest that the Middle East could also experience the same freedoms.
It seems ironic that the same month in which we celebrate President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday and his forceful demands in Berlin to the Communist leader to “tear down this wall,” the Obama administration missed the chance to support the Middle East’s Berlin moment. President Obama’s flowery Cairo speech in June 2009 tried to carry Bush’s vision for the region forward but subsequently failed to deliver any White House support for the democracy seekers in Iran, Tunisia, or Egypt when they needed it. One Arab diplomat on Twitter said today, “President of the free world to speak about freedom from tyranny today at 1:30. You're 17 days late Mr. President.”
When the Egypt protests started eighteen days ago, Vice President Biden immediately took to the airwaves to question the legitimacy of the protesters, claim that Mubarack was not a dictator, and de-link the situation in Tunisia from what was beginning to happen in Cairo.
JIM LEHRER: Some people are suggesting that we may be seeing the beginning of a kind of domino effect, similar to what happened after the Cold War in Eastern Europe. Poland came first, then Hungary, East Germany. We have got Tunisia, as you say, maybe Egypt, who knows. Do you smell the same thing coming?
JOE BIDEN: No, I don't. I wouldn't compare the two. ... I think it's a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe.
And later in the PBS interview…
JIM LEHRER: The word -- the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?
JOE BIDEN: ….I would not refer to him as a dictator.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, should we be -- should the United States be encouraging these protesters, whether they're in Tunisia or Egypt or wherever? They want their rights. And should we encourage them to seek them, if it means going to the streets or whatever?
JOE BIDEN: …We're encouraging the protesters to, as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we're encouraging the government to act responsibly and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out.
Watching the thousands of young people take to the streets throughout the Middle East to demand government reforms and greater freedoms is inspiring. The vice president must be embarrassed by today’s remarkable change in Egypt since he was the first administration official to take to the airwaves to try and hold up Egypt’s Berlin Wall. The historic departure of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the thousands of Arab youth in the streets of the Middle East just isn’t change Biden can believe in.