Politics & Policy

Voting as Victory

Bush is right about elections on the Arab street--even if we don't always like the results.

What critics of the Bush Doctrine fail to realize is that whatever happens in the Middle East–whether Islamists or secular democrats win in free elections–the policy of democratizing the Middle East creates a win-win situation for America and the free world. The Bush Doctrine finally provides a test for the now-famous Daniel Pipes statement that if the problem is radical Islam the solution is moderate Islam. The doctrine will test whether the Arab world is compatible with democracy and liberty or not. And if it’s not, it’s better we learn this now, when we’re militarily stronger and better placed for the clash of civilizations that such a conclusion entails.

It’s more likely that the pessimists–those who believe that Arabs/Muslims are not suited for democracy and will turn to radical Islamist parties–are wrong. While they may point to Iranian-backed Islamists winning in Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood increasing its share of the vote in Egypt, and the predictions that Hamas is set to do very well in the Palestinian Arab elections, and they may charge that democracy looks set to replace secular dictators with (in their view) far-worse theocrats, what the pessimists miss is that elections do not a democracy make. The success or failure of the Bush Doctrine cannot be judged on a few elections.

A liberal democracy is one that has a free press, a vibrant civil society, and property rights. A liberal democracy is not born overnight with the defeat of a dictator. In fact the defeat of a dictator actually portends to the likelihood of an initial victory for religious parties. This is because dictators usually clamp down on any civil-society movements and the only alternative power structure that exists is based around the mosque. This means that after the dictatorship falls secular democrats are starting from scratch while the Islamists have their voter-base and organization all set up. Only after the secular parties have a chance to organize and grow, and civil society develops, will the true appeal of the Islamic parties be seen.

But even if the pessimists are right, even if democracy for the Arab world means democratically elected Wahhabi or Tehran-style rule, even if the Arab street embraces radical rather than moderate Islam, it’s to our advantage that we discover this now. It still wasn’t a mistake to remove Saddam and it’s not a mistake to push for democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and co. The old policy of backing our “sons of bitches” in Cairo and Riyadh gave us the majority of the terrorists and funding for the September 11, 2001, attacks. And America was unable to punish them for their complicity because were “our sons of bitches.” To say that the status quo worked is to be living in a September 10, 2001, world.

But if the pessimists are right it is to our advantage that we discover now that the Arab world and Islam is fundamentally incompatible with our liberal democratic values, and that their goal of seeking a global caliphate means they are permanently at war with everything we stand for. If the clash of civilizations is inevitable, it’s better we learn this when we’re stronger, when we have the stronger military and the nuclear weapons, and can defeat them in an all-out war and destroy them before they destroy us.

If as free individuals, as democrats, the citizens of the Arab world effectively declare war against us by voting in Islamists who wish to kill every non-Muslim, then we have every justification to go to war against them. It’s much better that the world has learned the true intentions of the theocrats in Tehran–their desire to wipe Israel and America off the map–before they’ve acquired nuclear weapons. If the shah was still in power and as “our son of a bitch” the American government didn’t stop him acquiring nuclear weapons, and the Islamic revolution happened in post-nuke 2007 rather than pre-nuke 1979, the world would be a far more dangerous place.

If the pessimists are right then the president has done the free world a huge favor by exposing the inevitable clash of civilizations at a point in history where we will triumph. And if the pessimists are wrong, he’s done the Arab world a favor as well.

Daniel Freedman is online editor of the New York Sun and blogs at www.itshinesforall.com.

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