By NBC’s Catherine Chomiak and Domenico Montanaro
A stone’s throw away from the White House, former President George W. Bush said today the world is in an “extraordinary” time for freedom and that the changes of the Arab Spring should be embraced despite the uncertain future that comes with them.
Bush said those who say the dangers of democratic change are too great and that America should be in favor of stability over change are unrealistic.
“In the long run, this foreign-policy approach is not realistic,” Bush argued, “It is not realistic to presume that so-called stability enhances our national security. Nor is it within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable.”
Bush advocated a clear stand. “American’s message should ring clear and strong,” Bush said. “We stand for freedom — and for the institutions and habit that make freedom work for everyone.”
Bush’s stance puts him at odds with some hard-liners in his party, who have considered Israel’s interests in the region first. They have been critical of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and the political process that has followed, including the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The U.S., led by Obama, has walked a fine line on intervention during the Arab spring. America was reticent at first to get involved in Egypt, because of the “stability,” from an American perspective, that Mubarak represented. But eventually Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton embraced the changes.
The U.S. intervened in Libya, but only after building a multilateral approach and letting NATO take the lead. Some Republicans presidential knocked Obama for not intervening, and then others criticized him for getting involved at all. Newt Gingrich did both. The U.S. has not intervened in Syria, something Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been critical of Obama for not doing more on Syria.
Romney on a radio program in October called the Arab Spring “out of control.” “We’re facing an Arab Spring which is out of control in some respects,” he said, “because the president was not as strong as he needed to be in encouraging our friends to move toward representative forms of government.”
He says on his website that what’s happening in the Arab Spring is “doubled edged.” And: “To protect our enduring national interests and to promote our ideals, a Romney administration will pursue a strategy of supporting groups and governments across the Middle East to advance the values of representative government, economic opportunity, and human rights, and opposing any extension of Iranian or jihadist influence. The Romney administration will strive to ensure that the Arab Spring is not followed by an Arab Winter.”
Bush acknowledged that once these movements succeed in overthrowing a regime the hard work is not behind them. “After the euphoria, nations must deal with questions of tremendous complexity,” he said, adding, “Problems once kept submerged by force must now be resolved by politics and consensus.”
Bush and the former first lady were in town for the Washington launch of The Bush Center’s Freedom Collection, which is an initiative to document the stories of dissidents. They were joined by Pastor Bob Fu the founder of ChinaAid and an advocate for Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and the newly elected member of parliament Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appeared from Myanmar via Skype. Pastor Fu said he hopes to see Mr. Chen and his family in the U.S. soon.
President Bush quipped at the top of his remarks that he found his freedom by leaving Washington.