Eight years later, the best-case scenario in Afghanistan is a coalition between Karzai's corrupt cronies and the Taliban tyrants whose regime was the target of the U.S. invasion. Whether Iraq can avoid dissolving into sectarian violence after the departure of U.S. troops remains an open question. These dubious benefits have been purchased at a cost (so far) of $1.3 trillion and thousands of lives. That is the legacy of Bush's peace through freedom.
In other respects, Bush continued "excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East." His allies in the fight against al-Qaida included repressive regimes such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. He propped up the very dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia whose recent fall supposedly demonstrates the insights of his "freedom agenda."
The conflict between a long-term vision of liberal democracies living in peace with each other and the short-term fears of American politicians was evident in the Obama administration's timid response to the turmoil in Egypt. During nearly three weeks of protests, the vice president declined to call Mubarak a dictator, the secretary of state repeatedly recommended "an orderly transition" and the president, despite his 2009 speech in Cairo promising to "support (human rights) everywhere," never once said Mubarak should resign.
Mindful of democratic elections that have empowered illiberal forces such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, President Obama, like Bush before him, worries that friendly autocrats will be replaced by hostile populists. Let's hope this fear, which underlies the long history of desperate despot coddling that Bush continued while condemning, does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.