Sometimes rhetoric helps

From a report in Sunday’s Washington Post about the movements for democratic change in the Arab world:

“It is harder to get big numbers for demonstrations against Mubarak. People are cautious,” said Emad Attiya, a Kifaya coordinator who has been jailed three times for his political activism. Generally suspicious of U.S. motives in the region, Attiya acknowledged that Bush’s rhetorical push for democracy may have done some good. “At least Mubarak knows someone is watching,” he said.
As hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah supporters gathered March 8 in a downtown square in Lebanon to display an angry outpouring of support for Syria, [Lebanese opposition activist Rudy] Kamel… felt his heart sink. The numbers were huge, and the rhetoric of the militant Shiite Muslim party was sharply at odds with the opposition’s goals of a quick Syrian withdrawal. He worried that the elections could backfire.

Hours later, Kamel turned on the television. He watched President Bush say the United States supported the Lebanese opposition, calling the cause one of “conscience.” Those words would not likely have registered on most days with Kamel, who said that if he lived in the United States, he would certainly be a liberal Democrat. This day was different. “They helped a lot,” he recalled.

President Bush’s rhetoric about democracy isn’t enough, but it’s not as empty and valueless as Western cynics like to believe.