Video: Bush's doubters rethinking stance

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/8/2005 7:43:16 PM ET 2005-03-09T00:43:16

Elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, pro-democracy demonstrations in Lebanon and local elections — for men, at least — in Saudi Arabia: Is this an historic turning point, like the fall of the Berlin Wall? And, if so, should President Bush get the credit?

"President Bush has changed the order of our priorities in the Middle East and has put questions of political and economic reform — which is the long hand for liberty and democracy — he's put those issues at the forefront," says Danielle Pletka, a foreign policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "That has made a big difference."

Even some of the president's critics are rethinking the war in Iraq.

Television host Jon Stewart recently joked about it.

"What if Bush, the president of ours, has been right about this all along? I feel that my world view may not sustain itself and I may, and again I don’t know if I can physically do this, implode," Stewart said Jan. 31 on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

In fact, the Bush team is getting grudging respect in "Old Europe" from opponents of the Iraq war. The German news magazine Der Spiegel wrote, "Now it seems that true freedom of expression and democracy are evolving from that wrongful war. If that's the case, then there's good reason to cheer."

Even some Democrats agree.

"[In] each case, each country, I think there are different motivations," says Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "But certainly the president's policies — having shaken things up in the Middle East — have been a part of that dynamic."

Other experts say the Middle East was poised to move toward freedom and Bush just got lucky, most notably from Yasser Arafat's death last November, which led to new Palestinian leadership and peace talks with Israel.

And skeptics say Lebanon's divided opposition only came together because of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"There was tremendous momentum before the Iraq war toward reform in the Arab world," says Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert with The Brookings Institution.

Whatever the cause, no one is questioning the powerful appeal of democracy, as Arabs see their neighbors voting for the first time.

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