Below is a smart e-mail by a Corner reader. The analysis of the type a good Mideast desk officer at State or the Pentagon might produce as a policy memorandum – on the subject of whether and how to have diplomatic contact with the likes of Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The most vital point this reader makes is that elections do not a democracy make. Elections brought Benito Mussolini and Hugo Chávez to power, and they both used their mandate to ruin democratic governance — to popular acclaim. Democracy in America arose from the colonial tradition of local self-government. Self-government is an onerous responsibility, one that falls on all citizens alike. And it is the social detachment from any sense of civic responsibility or obeisance to the democratic rule of law which creates the gravest obstacles to democracy in the Middle East. That helps explain why elections have brought pro-terrorist and anti-democratic forces to the fore.
Anyway, here’s that e-mail:
As far as talking with the likes of Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood or such is concerned, I suppose I’m in sympathy to some extent with Mr. Stuttaford’s oft repeated opinion that there is probably no one we should not talk to. I would qualify that by adding that we should be very careful to make the level and content of the talks appropriate so as to avoid handing easy propaganda victories to those who are nonetheless our enemies, among other reasons. And I should also say that I believe that we should be doing almost everything possible to counter these organizations and erode their support, wherever it comes from.
I think Iraq and the PA [the Palestinian Authority – ML] show that “democracy,” really popular elections- in and of itself is not necessarily a liberalizing thing. I really like the idea of a “freedom agenda”, but note the not new observation that freedom is rooted in the social and cultural institutions of a society; what we refer to as civil society. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t forge ahead, but that we should have a more realistic conception of the nature and scope of the task.
I suppose I should get to my point, which is related to your Corner post. You note Silverstein’s discussion of Egypt, and without addressing that directly, I will say I think there is almost equal parts duplicity and truth in the Egyptian gov’ts game. It seems to be true that elections in much of the Arab and Islamic world would put some decidedly nasty players in power, and that fact makes US diplomacy difficult (the same laws and tactics that catch Islamists get liberals.) But state sponsored media in many of these countries also seems to feed into the support the bad guys get in general. Which then helps Mubarak (or whomever) pose as a bulwark against the forces he inflames. Granted some of this support reflects realities on the ground, so to speak. But it seems a simple game that US diplomacy should be able to see thru fairly easily. Maybe the question is too simple, but why is it we can’t pressure the Egyptians to take the hate filled sermons off the air, and ratchet back some of the nonsense in state owned or controlled newspapers? I don’t follow the logic that if they lighten up on the Copts, say, that means they have to go easy on extremists of the cut-your-head-off-with-a-sword variety as well. A similar dynamic seems to be in place with the Saudi’s, and others.
I understand that there is no infinite ability of the US to make other countries do what we want, but it seems we’re willing to go over the cliff of democracy without even attempting to help establish some of the cultural and societal precursors necessary for its success. Without a doubt it would be very difficult, but so is what we’re doing now. And I’m having a very hard time shaking the growing sense that much of the State Dept ( and CIA and…) is just not up to the job, strategically and otherwise. I think we’re in for a long and unpleasant war, especially if Iran continues down the road to nukes and our institutions -both national and international- continue to fall far short.
I recall Paul Bremer’s great farewell speech to the people of Iraq, in which he admonished them that the fate of democracy was entirely in their hands–as citizens. How do we communicate the values that a society must hold pervasively in order for democracy to work? How do we get societies that have never had such values to embrace them? I’m not sure that elections are the most beneficial thing to have in places where — as with the Palestinian Authority — the political parties don’t believe the state should even have a monopoly of force; or where the Koran and the cause of “justice” always trump the rule of law.