Bush’s self-appointment as the ambassador of democracy in the Middle East continues to misfire with the Palestinian elections handing a clear majority of 76 of 132 seats in Parliament to Hamas, which is officially considered a terrorist organization by the United States’ government and Israel, as well as the EU and Canada. Hamas also does not recognize the state of Israel and its destruction is part of the organization’s charter, as are some other choice bits that are likely to make the peace process difficult at best:
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."
"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."
Bush is calling for Hamas to change it’s charter. Don’t hold your breath. Though Hamas has made some hints that it intends to continue to negotiate with Israel through intermediaries, it is not altogether clear that Israel will be receptive. Israeli hard-liners may use the rise of Hamas as a reason to break off all talks, likely prompting another intensification of mutual violence.
Elections in Palestine, Iraq, Boliva, and Chile have all demonstrated an obvious truth: the democratic will of the people doesn’t always lead to immediate peace, stability, economic growth, peaceful diplomatic relations. The problem was pointed out quite clearly by Fareed Zacharia in the late 1990’s: the result of democracy can be liberal or illiberal, and it isn’t always predictable which you will get. More recent analysts such as Mansfield and Snyder have pointed out that the sort of forced-pace democratic transition that this Administration has advocated in the Middle East gives no time for the institutions of civil society needed to manage political competition to form and gain legitimacy. The result can often be an entrenchment of ethnic politics, creating greater risks of sectarianism, war and terrorism.
The goal of more democracy in the Middle East is certainly a laudable one, but the manner in which this Administration is pursuing it is short-sighted, motivated primarily by domestic political concerns, and possibly damaging our national interests. Justified or not, many in the Middle East and other less-developed nations see America not as a savior, or even as a mentor to emulate, but as a oppressor at the root of their suffering. Those impressions are going to effect the political behavior of the poor and oppressed of the world, especially when they are encouraged in this view and exploited by those who seek power. Without a plan to allay those impressions with more than just propaganda, we should not be surprised when our best intentioned plans for democratization result in empowering those who frame themselves as our enemies.
In the long-term, pulling potentially disruptive elements, such as the Ba’athists in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine into the political process, where there are incentives for compromise and discussion, may end up being a net positive for peace in the Middle East. But the Administration’s policies also run the risk of permanently radicalizing Middle Eastern populist politics and thus weakening democracy in those nations. Given this Administration's track record thus far, I would not bet much that they will adroitly handle the opportunities presented by the risks they are running.