"The notion, popular in Washington over the past few years, that American programs and efforts can help build a third alternative to both current governments and Islamists is simply a delusion." Talhami
"But in this historic moment Islamists remain the most well-organized alternative to governments, a situation that is unlikely to change soon. And current governments are not popular." Talhami
"This leaves U.S. foreign policy with limited choices. Full electoral democracy in the Middle East will inevitably lead to domination by Islamist groups, leaving the United States to either continue a confrontational approach, with high and dangerous costs for both sides, or to find a way to engage them — something that has yet to be fully considered. Given this, skepticism about the real aims of these groups should be balanced by openness to the possibility that their aims once they are in power could differ from their aims as opposition groups." Talhami
"If we are not willing to engage, there is only one alternative: to rethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reform of existing governments. There is no realistic third party that’s likely to emerge anytime soon." Talhami
Talhami is a thoughtful man and a subtle apologist for all thing Arab. Nevertheless, he now evidently feels compelled to recognize the evident political disaster that is approaching because of a naive and utopian belief that the mechanism of elections is powerful enough to release the people of the Middle East from the "burden" of millennia of tradition and culture.
In this OPED Talhami explains to the uninformed that there are no viable secular democratic and western oriented political forces in the Middle East anymore. In the 20th Century there was the possibility of the development of such forces but the parties and leaders all failed, defeated by the same recidivist forces that have for centuries blocked a renewal of creative theological thinking in Islam.
What are left are the oligarchs (usually military) and the Islamists (sometimes military). These two groups are the effective contestants for power in nearly all these countries. The evidence so far in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon all points to the accuracy of Talhami’s findings.
-Either accept the idea of Islamist governments, or
-Take a step back and return to the idea of incremental development toward standards of government that we are comfortable with in the West.
I think that adoption of the first option would be foolish. "the possibility that their aims once they are in power could differ from their aims as opposition groups" I see no evidence, anywhere, that groups fundamentally change their beliefs or behavior once they achieve power. If anything, the opposite is true since opposition groups believe themselves to be empowered by the experience of power.
Islamist groups want one basic thing and that is to create Shariah states. They may have to proceed slowly in doing this, but that is what they want and strive for. All else is tactics.