Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hamas as Harbinger

Jim Pinkerton at TCS Daily makes a few trenchant observations on the outcome of last week’s Palestinian elections and what Hamas’s triumph reveals about US foreign policy.

First, the Israeli intelligence services, so vaunted, had assured one and all, there and here, that Hamas could not get more than 30 percent of the vote. And the far less vaunted American intelligence services, agreed with the Israelis. On Friday, The New York Post’s Uri Dan, who is about as well-connected as any American reporter in Jerusalem, wrote, "The Israeli political, intelligence and defense establishment was caught off guard. There were no intelligence estimates or evaluation that forecast a Hamas victory, let alone the landslide that the world woke up to yesterday."

And the Hamas election was a big deal. "This is one of the blackest days in the history of the state of Israel," declared Silvan Shalom, who just gave up the foreign minister’s portfolio. And back in DC, Fox News’ White House correspondent, Carl Cameron, reported, "For President Bush, it’s hard to overstate the disappointment." Secretary of State Condi Rice’s caustic comments about her own staff, "I've asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse," were good enough to be The New York Times’ "quote of the day" for Monday.

So what went wrong with the intelligence? Is it just because, as former Senator Sam Nunn told NBC News, those dealing with the Palestinians have been "rather naïve"? That’s part of the problem, but another aspect can be found in the sum total of the previous two paragraphs: That is, if the news is bad enough, you don’t want to think about it. And if you don’t want to think about it, you don’t see it coming. Since the victory of Hamas -- whose charter calls for the annihilation of Israel and also of Jews -- is about the worst possible electoral outcome imaginable, it’s possible to see how the experts simply could not bring themselves to predict such a calamitous outcome. Yes, it’s fun to be contrarian, to be right when everybody else is wrong, but inside a bureaucracy, there’s a fine line to be walked between being correct and "not being a team player." So everybody in Jerusalem and Washington was "on the team," lowballing-Hamas-wise -- and now look where we are.

The resounding Hamas victory ought to give President Bush and his supporters more than a moment’s pause regarding the wisdom of their democratize-the-Muslims-at-all-costs policy. When Muslims are given the chance to vote, they have a historical pattern of voting for Islamic extremists. This can be seen in elections from Morocco to Indonesia. Not just recently, but going back for decades. Democratic experiments in the Muslim world have a nasty habit of dying quickly once the people vote into office the more radical fundamentalist types. Those that survive, after a fashion, are kept on perpetual life-support by secular militaries that roll out every few years to depose the Islamists that the people have just elected to power – see Turkey.

This pattern tends to support the idea that democracy is something that requires the certain cultural pre-requisites. Those pre-requisites – tolerance of dissent, restraint from violence, loose family ties - took centuries to develop in the West, and those centuries were often soaked in blood. Nothing in Islamic culture or history suggests broad sympathy to those ideas. Imposing democracy from the top down, by force, isn’t going to reshape Muslim culture. It is simply going to provide Muslim masses the opportunity to vote for the radicals of their choice.

Pinkerton sees this too:

Fourth, and once again, we might as well be candid here: Democracy is not quite a panacea. "Hitler was also elected democratically," snapped Silvan Shalom explained to The New York Post. An important conservative voice for the moderation of the democracy-at-all-costs Bush Doctrine has been Peggy Noonan; a year ago, in the wake of Bush’s hyper-visionary second inaugural address, her op-ed in The Wall Street Journal asked, "Was the president's speech a case of ‘mission inebriation’?" Yes, was Noonan’s answer. And just last week, reviewing Bush’s latest encomium to free elections -- W. used the words "democracy" or "democratization" 13 times at Kansas State University -- Noonan further opined, "In the short term the president's preoccupation seem somewhat at odds with the needs of the moment."

Some pro-democracy thinkers, such as New York University’s Noah Feldman, are thinking longer term. In his 2003 book, After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy, Feldman argued that if democracy is let loose in the Arab/Muslim world, the US would confront a generation of Iran-style "Islamic Republics" everywhere. To Feldman, that’s acceptable, and it’s also, he argues, inevitable. But of course, the Bush administration hasn’t prepared the American people for such an outcome. Maybe that get-used-to-it process is beginning now.

The idea here is simple: let the Muslims elect the most radical fundamentalists. Burst the dam that’s been holding them in check (authoritarian, but generally secular strongmen) and let them run the Middle East. Let them turn the Middle East into one super-sized version of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Then, in a decade or two, when the people of the Middle East see what a mess the Islamists have made, they will reject Islamism and adopt a more sensible pro-Western approach.

Well, it’s an argument, but waiting a generation for the Islamist tide to break in the Middle East doesn’t explain how we will deal with them in the short term. To whom will they sell their oil? They will sell it, but maybe not to us. China will pay just as well as the West, and the Islamists will take considerable satisfaction in spitting at the Western by providing China the fuel it needs to grow. Worse, this policy does little to address the terrorist and immigration threat posed to Western nations by radical Muslims – in fact, in the short term, it would only increase it.

Worse, this argument overlooks the fact that Islamist radicalism derives from Islam itself. Don’t let the apologists for Islamic fanaticism tell you otherwise. Islamic fundamentalism has waxed and waned throughout the centuries, but it always returns, because the appeal of religious fundamentalism never disappears – a truth not confined to Islam. For this reason, Islamism won’t be as easy to discredit as communism or socialism or fascism. And, despite the complete and bloody failures of those nasty "isms," they turn out not to be so easy to discredit either. South America finds itself in the throes of a socialist renaissance. Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil are proudly waving the socialist banner and making chummy with Fidel Castro not fifteen years after the demise of the Soviet Union. Foolishness comes naturally to human beings, and more readily to some humans than others.

George F. Will senses this troubling blindspot in the President's thinking.

The success of the terrorist organization Hamas in the Palestinian elections is but the latest proof of what happens when the forms of democracy are severed from what the president, with a cosmopolitan shrug, dismissively called "our own Western standards of progress." Now comes wishful thinking, and then cynicism.

Regarding the latter, the watery materialism of much thinking -- the theory that social structures and economic incentives trump ideas as shapers of behavior -- will interpret the Hamas victory in the benign light of the Garbage Collection Theory of History. On Sunday, on ABC's "This Week," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said: "My hope is that as a consequence of now being responsible for electricity and picking up garbage and basic services to the Palestinian people, that they recognize it's time to moderate their stance." Perhaps. But their stance -- Israel must die -- is, they say, the will of God, who has not authorized moderation in the name of sanitation.

Hamas’s victory was a harbinger of things to come if democracy does spread across the Middle East. Iraqis have already expressed a preference for religious parties. The seeds of Shia militancy are already planted and the Iranians are nurturing them even as American soldiers try to avoid IEDs on Baghdad streets. The Bush administration hasn’t given enough thought to the possible downside of its policy. It hasn’t given enough consideration to the reality that Muslims are culturally just not like us. It had better start.


At 12:16 PM , Blogger John Sobieski said...

One aspect of Islam that binds the Musulman is the need for guidance. If you journey the Muslim da'wa websites, many have an 'ask imam' for guidance, a 'fatwa', a rule, or an approval.

It is really quite absurd that anyone would give up so many personal decisions to a cleric. Of course, this is a common characteristic of cults. The slaves are completely dependent on their master. In fact, Islam makes it quite clear that the Mohamedans are his slaves, he is their master, there is no other.

I read a lot of passages lately in MSM articles which apologize for Islam by saying 'of course, this is contradictory to Islam's (or Mohammed's) universal message' So what is this universal message, MSM?

Oh yes, it's peace. But whose peace and how is that peace achieved? If you do not know the answer to my question, please read Ch. (Sura) 9, the final and last recitation by Mohammed before his death and when he was at the apex of his life and power.

For those who don't want to bother, Mohammed's universal message is a world at peace for Muslims, and only Muslims. All nonbelievers must be converted, enslaved or murdered.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home