The Freedom Agenda, According to Colin Powell; Plus, How Freedom Fills a Vacuum

Fred Kaplan’s new book, Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power, is written in a pleasantly breezy, journalistic style that makes it easy to blow through in an afternoon. While a lot of the material in the book will be familiar to those who’ve been closely watching the trainwreck-in-slow-motion that is the Bush administration’s foreign policy, it contains a few shocking tidbits that are new. Here’s one that was particularly striking, discussing the so-called “freedom agenda,” a plan to spur undemocratic Arab regimes to democracy that was led by Iran-Contra figure Elliot Abrams. When a document Abrams had overseen describing Washington’s agenda for overhauling the Arab world leaked to al Hayat, the Arab world unsurprisingly reacted with outright hostility. Secretary of State Colin Powell was dispatched to smooth ruffled feathers. He met with his staff before the trip.

Speaking privately with his aides, Powell said the White House was, in effect, telling the Arabs, “Get down out of those trees and be democrats.” The United States had just toppled the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq with military force. Now, Powell said, we seemed to be ordering the Arab nations, “Line up, you’re all next.”

There’s also this, where Natan Sharansky was apparently trying to warn Bush that Ariel Sharon’s policy of disengagement from Gaza could wreak havoc there.

Sharansky wrote a private letter to President Bush, making [the case that disengagement would be dangerous] and hoping that he too would oppose Sharon’s move. Bush wrote him back a private letter, saying that he supported Sharon’s policy. Disengagement, the president argued, would create a vacuum, which the natural forces of freedom would fill: Gaza would become a democracy almost of its own accord.

If you need to get caught up on what’s gone wrong, Kaplan’s book is a decent primer. More info here.