The New Republic’s Martin Peretz ventures into nearly uncharted territory for the Left, even the center-Left, in the latest edition of TNR. He argues that George Bush deserves more credit for tranforming the Middle East than given him by the media and punditry, and takes them to task for their “churlishness”:
If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others. He pursued his goal obstinately, they would say, without filtering his thoughts through the medical research establishment. And he didn’t share his research with competing labs and thus caused resentment among other scientists who didn’t have the resources or the bold–perhaps even somewhat reckless–instincts to pursue the task as he did. And he completely ignored the World Health Organization, showing his contempt for international institutions. Anyway, a cure for cancer is all fine and nice, but what about aids?
No, the president has not discovered a cure for cancer. But there is a pathology, a historical pathology, that he has attacked with unprecedented vigor and with unprecedented success. I refer, of course, to the political culture of the Middle East, which the president may actually have changed. And he has accomplished this genuinely momentous transformation in ways that virtually the entire foreign affairs clerisy–the cold-blooded Brent Scowcroft realist Republicans and almost all the Democrats–never thought possible. Or, perhaps, in ways some of them thought positively undesirable. Bush, it now seems safe to say, is one of the great surprises in modern U.S. history. Nothing about his past suggested that he harbored these ideals nor the qualities of character required for their realization. Right up to the moment Bush became president, I was convinced that his mind, at least on matters Levantine, belonged to his father and to James Baker III, whose worldview seemed to be defined by the pecuniary prejudice of oil and Texas: Keep the ruling Arabs happy. But I was wrong, and, in light of what has already been achieved in the Middle East, I am glad to say so. Most American liberals, alas, enjoy no similar gladness. They are not exactly pleased by the positive results of Bush’s campaign in the Middle East. They deny and resent and begrudge and snipe. They are trapped in the politics of churlishness.
Read the entire article, if it can be accessed without subscription. Peretz goes into a lengthy analysis of the efforts over the past two administrations to handle Middle Eastern turmoil, and he surprisingly savages the Clinton Administration’s fumbling efforts to avoid being seen as losers rather than take any bold initiatives to transform it. He faults the first few months of the Bush administration along similar lines — fairly, in my opinion — but gives Bush credit for learning his lesson after 9/11, a lesson Peretz notes that the American Left still has yet to comprehend. In fact, as Peretz concludes, the greatest irony about George Bush and the Middle East is that history may show that one of the most conservative administrations in ages (Peretz’ opinion) managed to be the first to actually spread liberalism throughout a region most liberals thought to be hopeless.