A mis­take I fre­quently make as a polit­i­cal observer is believ­ing con­ser­v­a­tives mean what they say. Not that I often agree with them…but the things they put forth as pol­icy are framed in such pas­sion and earnest self-​​righteousness, I just can’t help think­ing they must be sin­cere this time. And all too often, my faith turns out yet again to be naïve and misplaced.

In 2005 dur­ing the inau­gural address for his sec­ond term, George W. Bush deliv­ered these stir­ring words:

So it is the pol­icy of the United States to seek and sup­port the growth of demo­c­ra­tic move­ments and insti­tu­tions in every nation and cul­ture, with the ulti­mate goal of end­ing tyranny in our world. This is not pri­mar­ily the task of arms, though we will defend our­selves and our friends by force of arms when nec­es­sary. Free­dom, by its nature, must be cho­sen, and defended by cit­i­zens, and sus­tained by the rule of law and the pro­tec­tion of minori­ties. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the insti­tu­tions that arise may reflect cus­toms and tra­di­tions very dif­fer­ent from our own. Amer­ica will not impose our own style of gov­ern­ment on the unwill­ing. Our goal instead is to help oth­ers find their own voice, attain their own free­dom, and make their own way.

As early as 2003, George Bush had appar­ently envi­sioned this pow­er­ful grass-​​roots demo­c­ra­tic move­ment start­ing in Egypt. Speak­ing to the National Endow­ment For Democ­racy in Novem­ber of 2003, Bush said:

The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Mid­dle East, and now should show the way toward democ­racy in the Mid­dle East. Cham­pi­ons of democ­racy in the region under­stand that democ­racy is not per­fect, it is not the path to utopia, but it is the only path to national suc­cess and dignity.

This was not just Bush’s per­sonal vision, but the stated pol­icy of his admin­is­tra­tion in 2006:

More broadly, the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion has viewed democ­racy pro­mo­tion as an instru­ment for com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism. Both the U.S. exec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches of gov­ern­ment sup­port democ­racy pro­mo­tion in other coun­tries. The Bush Admin­is­tra­tion has imple­mented both bilat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral pro­grams to pro­mote democ­racy, such as the Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Account (MCA), and requested about $1.5 bil­lion for democ­racy pro­mo­tion in FY2008. Also, it has iden­ti­fied gov­ern­ing justly and demo­c­ra­t­i­cally as a key objec­tive of its for­eign aid policies.

And, of course, the value to our secu­rity and pros­per­ity of “pro­mot­ing democ­racy” in the Mid­dle East was repeated inces­santly dur­ing the course of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion by con­ser­v­a­tives every­where as a com­pletely viable jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the costly war in Iraq, even absent Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion or any overt threat to Amer­ica from Sad­dam Hus­sein’s régime.

But then two things hap­pened and every­thing changed, seem­ingly overnight. The first was Barack Obama’s elec­tion as pres­i­dent of the United States, and the sec­ond was a spon­ta­neous, grass­roots upris­ing across the Mid­dle East, an “Arab Spring” in nations seek­ing to throw off the yoke of author­i­tar­i­an­ism and begin to gov­ern themselves.

Sud­denly and inex­plic­a­bly, west­ern con­ser­v­a­tives began to lose their enthu­si­asm for democ­racy in the Mid­dle East. It was no longer a joy­ous event to be fer­vently desired, result­ing in Amer­i­cans being show­ered with candy and flow­ers by grate­ful lib­er­ated peo­ples. Instead it mor­phed into some­thing dark, sin­is­ter and threat­en­ing to west­ern interests.

We began to see many arti­cles like this one from right-​​wing com­men­ta­tors and blog­gers, mock­ing Barack Obama’s gulli­bil­ity for believ­ing in the Arab Spring:

Despite the fact that the Islamists are widely expected to win a major­ity in the Egypt­ian elec­tions, Barack Obama is prepar­ing a speech prais­ing the Arab Spring. Obama intends to make the point that shoot­ing Bin Laden in the eye and the upris­ings and over­throw of sev­eral pro-​​American regimes will usher in a new era of polit­i­cal change in the Mid­dle East. Seems a bit fool­ish, doesn’t it?

Or this one, telling us that Mus­lims are nei­ther his­tor­i­cally, cul­tur­ally nor ide­o­log­i­cally capa­ble of func­tion­ing within a true democracy:

Most peo­ple like the idea of democ­racy, it’s the idea that the peo­ple you hate get just as many votes as you do, that they don’t like. That’s why Mus­lims will play the game of democ­racy, but only until they score enough goals that they can take the net home with them. Tol­er­ance was only a virtue in Islam, when Mohammed and his hand­ful of fol­low­ers needed to rely on the good­will of peo­ple who didn’t like them. But once the san­dal was on the other foot, the swords really began to fall. And so did the heads. That’s why the Arab Spring is fated to end in a Mus­lim Winter.

Or this one by for­mer neo­con­ser­v­a­tive hawk Andrew McCarthy, in which he sounds both angry with the media for pro­mot­ing democ­racy, and more than a bit nos­tal­gic for deposed strong­man Hosni Mubarak:

Why is the sit­u­a­tion in Egypt so dan­ger­ous? Because the “Arab Spring” is not the Arab Spring. It is the Islamist ascen­dancy. Like good democ­racy fetishists, though, the media is see­ing the Egypt it wants to see. To the con­trary, in the real Egypt, Islamist ide­ol­ogy is the main­stream, cours­ing from the beat­ing heart of Al-​​Azhar Uni­ver­sity through every part of the coun­try. With­out the much-​​derided Mubarak around to clamp down on it, Islamists have Copts and sec­u­lar­ists par­a­lyzed by their habit­ual unrest and clashes.

Most recently we have had the shock­ing and  embar­rass­ing spec­ta­cle of Repub­li­cans openly sid­ing with the leader of another nation, Israeli PM Ben­jamin Netanyahu,  who lec­tured the Pres­i­dent of the United States, in pub­lic,  for express­ing a view on Mideast peace nego­ti­a­tions that has been the set­tled pol­icy of the United States for decades.

So there you have it. For­get all that rap­tur­ous sup­port of George W. Bush’s dream to bring democ­racy to the Mid­dle East, with Egypt lead­ing the way. When peo­ple in that part of the world rise up to bring democ­racy to their own nations, it is no longer a noble and nec­es­sary devel­op­ment; it is some­thing to be feared. The res­i­dents of those coun­tries are Islamists and ter­ror­ists whose free­dom now poses a threat to the West and to Israel.  They can­not be trusted with democ­racy, because they are too prim­i­tive and unsta­ble to han­dle it. What’s more, they’ve always been that way, and Barack Obama is gullible and naïve to think otherwise.

So which is it? Are con­ser­v­a­tives lying now because the Arab Spring is hap­pen­ing under a dif­fer­ent president…or were they lying for all those years when they sup­ported democ­racy in the Mid­dle East, which was advanced by George Bush as a pri­mary jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Iraq war?

It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. I leave the answer up to you.