The Corner

Re: Bush Freedom Follow-Up- Part II

Okay, Rich, now to the heart of the discussion about democracy:

There are short-term problems and long-term problems. In the short-term, you are correct to say that “our real problem in the Middle East right now is not a lack of democracy so much as weak states that cannot impose a monopoly of force on their territories.” Let me add to that the issues of accountability, incitement, and ideology:

First, accountability: Too many Arab leaders and Arab commentators, seek to foist responsibility for their ills on outsiders. And too many U.S. academics and the pundits enable them to do so. Context matters: It is easy to blame everything on colonialism, for example, based on studies of the Middle East in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The problem is that many of the same problems existed in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries, well before the age of imperialism. On a more practical level, I’m reminded of Norvell De Atkine’s seminal article, “Why Arabs Lose Wars?” In short, when you can’t admit mistakes, you can’t correct them and learn from them.

Another aspect of accountability is the willingness to suffer the consequence of decisions. We go wrong by interceding to remove accountability. For example, while overseas last month, I was accosted by an Egyptian diplomat who took offense to my characterizations of Hamas as a terrorist organization. “They were democratically elected,” he said, and added, “Don’t they have the right to resist under international law?” This is symptomatic of an inability or unwilling to choose between peace and war. Either you operate under the norms of peacetime governance, one of the advantages of which is greater legitimacy, or you seek the advantages of achieving your aim through military force, a drawback of which is you might lose, and Israel certainly has the right to wallop any terrorists attacking it, just as the United States or Turkey do. We should stop allowing groups to seek the legitimacy of peace with the benefits of war. If they choose the latter, they should be prepared to lose.

Incitement is also a problem: Take the Oslo Accords. Perhaps they were doomed from the start because of Arafat’s insincerity. Or, perhaps they were doomed because the State Department and others turned a blind eye toward the incitement which permeated the school books and the airwaves (and still do, thanks to generous UN subsidy and poor UN management). The same trend, unfortunately, now continues in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Masud Barzani is more intent in inciting his minions toward conflict, rather than compromise, even as he whispers sweet nothings to visiting diplomats and congressmen. (Note to Congressmen: Don’t stay in KRG guest houses; don’t depend on the KRG to arrange all your meetings, nor should you rely on the U.S. embassy, which is afraid to have you meet with independents for fear that it could tarnish embassy ties with the KRG).

This leads to ideology. There is no sugar-coating the problem of radical Islamist ideology. No matter how pacific some scholars’ interpretation of the Qur’an is, with all due respect, it is not a Harvard or University of Michigan scholar’s opinion that matters, but rather that of the teachers in the madrasas or the students who believe that jihad is both violent and murder is just.

Back to democracy: It is a long-term strategy. Where the neo-cons inserted themselves into the Iraq war debate was not so much whether or not we should go to war with Saddam. There was broad-based consensus at the time across the U.S. government (and, for that matter, in the U.S. Senate). Rather, the neo-cons inserted themselves into the questions I outlined in the previous post which centered on whether we should aim for the start of a democratic process in Iraq. Democratization is a process, and the core of the neo-con vs. realist debate is whether U.S. foreign policy should be attached to any long-term moral or ethical notions, or whether it should return to the age of short-term stability, long-term consequences be damned. I would argue that pushing the region toward democratization will, in the long-term, aid in the restoration of accountability. I’d also argue it’s in our long-term interests (short-version, here). Have we made mistakes with democratization? Yes. One of the biggest was embracing the UN’s idea of proportional representation (explanation, here). Of all the debates I lost with regard to Iraq policy, I most regret the direct election vs. proportional representation one. We are very much paying the price for listening to the UN on that one.

So, in answer to Rich: Democratization is not a panacea. It is a long-term framework around which we should guide policy. We shouldn’t allow guns and ballot boxes to mix, as we did in Iraq with the militias and in the Gaza and West Bank with the Palestinians. Nor, when we don’t like the way an election goes, should we necessarily maintain the same relations. U.S. aid and assistance is not an entitlement.

Michael Rubin — Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East ...

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