GEORGE W. BUSH: THE ARAB SPRING AND AMERICAN IDEALS

Wall Street Journal on May 17, 2012, published an article by former President George W. Bush on the relation of American ideals to the Arab Spring. We do not get to choose, Mr. Bush wrote, if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere. We only get to choose what side we are on. Excerpts below:

These are extraordinary times in the history of freedom. In the Arab Spring, we have seen the broadest challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism. The idea that Arab peoples are somehow content with oppression has been discredited forever.

This is the inbuilt crisis of tyranny. It fears and fights the very human attributes that make a nation great: creativity, enterprise and responsibility. Dictators can maintain power for a time by feeding resentments toward enemies—internal or external, real or imagined. But eventually, in societies of scarcity and mediocrity, their failure becomes evident.

The day when a dictator falls or yields to a democratic movement is glorious. The years of transition that follow can be difficult. People forget that this was true in Central Europe, where democratic institutions and attitudes did not spring up overnight. From time to time, there has been corruption, backsliding and nostalgia for the communist past. Essential economic reforms have sometimes proved painful and unpopular.

It takes courage to ignite a freedom revolution. But it also takes courage to secure a freedom revolution through structural reform. And both types of bravery deserve our support.

We know the problems. But there is a source of hope. The people of North Africa and the Middle East now realize that their leaders are not invincible. Citizens of the region have developed habits of dissent and expectations of economic performance. Future rulers who ignore those expectations—who try returning to oppression and blame shifting—may find an accountability of their own.

As Americans, our goal should be to help reformers turn the end of tyranny into durable, accountable civic structures. Emerging democracies need strong constitutions, political parties committed to pluralism, and free elections. Free societies depend upon the rule of law and property rights, and they require hopeful economies, drawn into open world markets.

This work will require patience, creativity and active American leadership.

In promoting freedom, our methods should be flexible. Change comes at different paces in different places. Yet flexibility does not mean ambiguity. The same principles must apply to all nations. As a country embraces freedom, it finds economic and social progress. Only when a government treats its people with dignity does a nation fulfill its greatness. And when a government violates the rights of a citizen, it dishonors an entire nation.

There is nothing easy about the achievement of freedom.

Mr. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, is the founder of the Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. This op-ed is adapted from a speech he delivered May 15 at the Bush Institute’s Celebration of Human Freedom.

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