George W. Bush launched his second term as president with an inaugural address that put the spread of democratic freedoms at the heart of his international agenda. In one memorable passage, he promised "all who live in tyranny and hopelessness" that "the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
Within days, the administration was making it clear that this "Bush doctrine" would apply even to autocratic US allies like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. When Ayman Nour, a leading Egyptian democracy activist, was arrested on bogus charges and thrown in jail, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled a planned trip to Egypt in protest. Her trip was rescheduled only after Nour was released, and upon landing in Cairo in June 2005, she delivered a ringing defense of democracy and the right of peaceful dissenters to be heard.
"Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty," Rice said. "It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy."
No one knows how the uprisings now shaking the Arab world from Tunisia to Yemen -- and above all in Egypt, where at least 200,000 protesters yesterday staged the largest demonstration yet against Mubarak's rule -- will end. But a number of Bush's supporters and former aides have been arguing that what is underway in the Arab street vindicates the "freedom agenda" at which so many skeptics had scoffed. "It turns out, as those demonstrators are telling us," writes Elliott Abrams, who was Bush's deputy national security adviser, "that supporting freedom is the best policy of all."