It is barely six weeks since the US President delivered his second inaugural address, a paean to liberty and democracy that espoused the goal of “ending tyranny in our world”. Reactions around the world ranged from alarm to amused scorn, from fears of a new round of “regime changes” imposed by an all-powerful American military, to suspicions in the salons of Europe that this time Mr Bush, never celebrated for his grasp of world affairs, had finally lost it. No one imagined that events would so soon cause the President’s opponents around the world to question whether he had got it right.
That debate is now happening, in America and beyond, as the first waves of reform lap at the Arab world. Post-Saddam Iraq has held its first proper election. In their own elections, Palestinians have overwhelmingly chosen a moderate leader. Hosni Mubarak, who for 24 years has permitted no challenge to his rule in Egypt, has announced a multi-candidate presidential election this year. Even Saudi Arabia is not immune, having just held its first municipal elections. Next time around, Saudi spokesmen promise, women too will be permitted to vote.
Most remarkably of all, perhaps, popular demonstrations in Beirut last week brought the downfall of one pro-Syrian government and – with the help of fierce pressure from Washington and the EU – the agreement by Syria to start withdrawing its troops in Lebanon.
Of course they go on to say, well he was partly responsible but it woulda happened anyway, bullshit!