The Dissident President: Is the Bush Freedom Agenda Dead?

Speaking to the Congress and the nation and the world President Bush’s pledge to political dissidents and the freedom activists everywhere was:

“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”


The world took him at his word. There was an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, a Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, and a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. It was as if the democracy movements fed off each other. It was a very exciting time.

And, that was just the beginning.

Nowhere was there more democratic upheaval than in the Middle East. There were democratic elections in Afghanistan where women were not only allowed to vote but took seats in parliament. There were democratic elections for the first time in the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia released political dissidents. There were Arab democracy conferences in Qatar and women were allowed to vote in Kuwait. Egyptian judges stood up against a regime. Another regime in Libya opened up to the West. And who could forget the Iraqis walking for miles, braving terrorist death threats for the opportunity to vote in free democratic elections for the very first time.

bushfreedom.jpgClockwise from top left: Bush promoting religious freedom in China, Bush is posted on placards in Azerbaijan, Bush is mobbed in Albania, Iraqi women carry Bush photos with them to the polling station on election day.

Since that Second Inaugural much has changed, both on the military battlefields of Iraq and the political battlefields back here at home. And over time America has not kept its word to the politically oppressed on several occasions including the student protests in Iran and the massive democracy demonstrations in Belarus. How did this happen?

This past week in Prague, Czech Republic I had the opportunity to discuss the Bush Freedom Agenda with American Enterprise Institute Resident Fellow and former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, Richard Perle.


In our interview, Perle had a lot to say about the president’s remarks to the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague, Czech Republic:

“It is not often that heads of government demonstrate — as President Bush did — solidarity with dissidents. However, having said that, almost equally extraordinary is the apparent inability of the Bush Administration to follow up on the president’s vision and implement the president’s vision. It was striking in his remarks yesterday that President Bush said that he was going to instruct the Secretary of State who was in turn going to instruct our ambassadors that they should go out of their way to make contact with dissidents and the oppressed in the countries in which they are assigned where there is no openness, freedom and democracy.

What can one say? This should have been happening anyway. It shouldn’t require a presidential instruction. I will like to see whether that instruction will be actually issued and whether our ambassadors respond to it. The sad fact is that this president’s Freedom Agenda is outside the bounds of traditional bureaucratic diplomacy and so he’s having a tough time getting his own administration to implement his policies. ”

Perle sat on a at the democracy conference and made basically the same point — that the president has not been able to push his revolutionary agenda because he is not following up and holding officials accountable for following up within his own administration.


This statement rang through the halls of the Czernin Palace.

Even Natan Sharansky, the Soviet political prisoner, human rights activist, former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel and democracy leader, has noticed the democracy recess in the past year. In a recent article at the American Spectator Sharansky explained it this way:

“Though the road to democracy has certainly been rocky, what has happened over the last five years does not mean that Arabs are incapable of building a free society any more than the reign of terror or two centuries of slavery meant that the French and Americans were incapable of building a free society.”

Sharansky contends that “democracy hasn’t failed in the Middle East. Rather, it has hardly been attempted, let alone defended, despite the Bush administration’s commitments and correct understanding of its indispensability to U.S. national security.

To lose heart about the possibility of a democratic Middle East would be shortsighted at the very least. Most of the problems today are not evidence that Arabs are incapable of building free societies, but rather evidence that such societies would pose a mortal threat to the forces of tyranny and terror in the region.”

So, what’s next? Is the Bush Freedom Agenda still alive?

bushfreedom2.jpgGraphic: David Hoft Pop Images

It certainly sounded that way last week when President Bush delivered his inspiring speech at the Prague conference, before dissidents representing 17 different countries:


“In this room are dissidents and democratic activists from 17 countries on five continents. You follow different traditions, you practice different faiths, and you face different challenges. But you are united by an unwavering conviction: that freedom is the non-negotiable right of every man, woman, and child, and that the path to lasting peace in our world is liberty. …

The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs — it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul. Freedom is the best way to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation. Freedom is the only ordering of a society that leads to justice. And human freedom is the only way to achieve human rights….

In my second inaugural address, I pledged America to the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. Some have said that qualifies me as a “dissident president.”

If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, I wear that title with pride.”

It was an impressive performance. But as Professor Anne Bayefsky noted in the National Review, “there is no doubt that this president can talk the talk. But will he walk the walk?”

After his speech, President Bush took a couple of minutes to shake hands with the dissidents who sat in reserved seats in the front row of the room. The president also spent time with the dissidents in a back room at the Czernin Palace Hall. He talked with them, listened to them, comforted and thanked them. It was a noble effort by President Bush. They each left the private session with a gift from the president.


If President Bush truly wants to give these dissidents a gift- a gift of democracy and freedom- he will hold his administration accountable. He will follow through to ensure that his demands are being carried out. He can start by checking back with his ambassadors in a few weeks to see how they are progressing. Let’s hope that he does. It may be a long time coming before such a visionary operates inside the White House.

Outside its gates, the lives of millions of oppressed people are at stake.

Jim Hoft runs the blog Gateway Pundit, following freedom movements from inside Zimbabwe to the streets of Tehran.


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