In the calendar of the Revolution, Thermidor was the second month of summer. On 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794), Robespierre was guillotined and the Reign of Terror came to an end.
Thermidor has thus come to mean the turning point in a revolution, when the fever passes on and the fury abates. Trotsky called Stalin’s consolidation of power “Soviet Thermidor.”
And it would appear Thermidor has come to the world democratic revolution of George W. Bush.
In the catechism of the Bush Revolution, liberty is indivisible. If the whole world is not free, America’s freedom is not secure, and we must thus use American power in perpetuity to liberate mankind and, as Bush declared in his Second Inaugural, “end tyranny on earth.”
No more utopian ambition has ever been declared by an American president.
In 2006, however, reality intruded.
The elections Bush championed as way stations on the road to global democracy produced, from the Mideast to Latin America, defeat after defeat. In Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq, the real winners were the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas and Moqtada al-Sadr. In Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, free elections gave Hugo Chavez three new allies, and radicals almost captured Peru and Mexico. Populism, socialism and anti-Americanism are surging in Latin America.
Following the worst year of his presidency, where nothing seemed to go right for him or his country, President Bush appears to be executing an about-face in foreign policy.
- Awakening to the fact that future elections in the Mideast, a region where hostility toward him and the United States is pandemic, might bring to power enemies not friends, Bush appears to have set aside the rhetoric of democratic revolution.
- The White House has acceded to North Korea’s demands for recognition, security guarantees and aid, in return for Kim Jong-Il’s promise to stop producing plutonium. Yet, there seems no guarantee the North will give up the nuclear weapons it produced and tested on Bush’s watch. Though the deal angered former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, President Bush embraced it.
- Without preconditions, the United States this weekend sat down in Baghdad with Syria and Iran, and Secretary Rice is to meet with the foreign ministers of both nations next month. The talks may not be restricted to Iraq and may deal with the full range of U.S.-Iranian relations.
The road map of the Iraq Study Group seems to have been found somewhere in the West Wing.
- Over the weekend, Gen. David Petraeus said in Baghdad: “Any student of history recognizes there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq. … A political resolution of various differences … is crucial.” Any such resolution, said the general, requires engaging some of the Sunni enemies that U.S. forces have been fighting.
- With U.S. approval, the Saudis have helped cobble together a coalition government in Palestine of Hamas and Fatah. And though Hamas has balked at the three non-negotiable demands of the Quartet — that it recognize Israel, accept all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and renounce war — a diplomatic track appears to be opening. And Ehud Olmert, surprisingly, has told his Cabinet he will “treat seriously” the Saudi Plan that calls for Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders, in return for peace with the Arab nations.
- Moreover, if personnel is policy, the changes since November augur a change in policy. Rumsfeld is out, Robert Gates of the Iraq Study Group is in. John Bolton is gone from the United Nations. Doug Feith is defending himself from charges he cherry-picked the intel to get us into war. Scooter Libby is no longer the eminence grise of the West Wing, but fishing for a pardon. President Bush is said to be listening more to Condi Rice and less to Richard Cheney.
Thermidor may be at hand for the Bush Revolution, but there remains a great and unresolved issue.
The first article of the Bush Doctrine is that the world’s worst regimes will not be permitted to acquire the world’s worst weapons. That article has been defied with impunity by Pyongyang. But is it still applicable to Iran? Will Bush, in the absence of a diplomatic deal with Tehran to halt its enrichment of uranium, leave office without using American power to effect the nuclear castration of Iran?
This question raises others. Does George W. Bush have the constitutional authority, without further congressional action, to order a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and the defensive installations that protect those facilities? And if Bush should ask for authority to bomb Iran, would Congress sign another blank check?
Within the principal antagonistic states of the Middle East — Syria and Iran, Israel and the United States — there appear to be both forces that seek confrontation and forces willing to do a deal that meets the minimal security demands of the other side.
If Bush can broker a deal that suspends the nuclear enrichment program of Iran before it goes critical, he may yet salvage something of value out of the hellish mess in Mesopotamia.