Democracy run Amok?

"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.

Talhami’s conclusions?

-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.

Pat Lang

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10 Responses to Democracy run Amok?

  1. ikonoklast says:

    “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.”
    Even if we are willing to engage, the policy of acceleration needs to be rethought, if not discarded entirely. The whole idea of attracting other societies to democracy assumes that democracy can deliver something they want. Our botched experiments in geopolitics and neo-economics haven’t had a noticeably positive effect in promoting that concept. Electoral democracy? Only if we like the results. Western lifestyles? Our own religious conservatives are appalled at what they see and hear in the media; to a devout Muslim who can’t put it into a cultural context it must look abhorrently decadent. Economics? Electricity, water and employment for the citizens of Iraq might be a good place to start. Security? Not even funny. Freedom of speech? Danish cartoons. Habeas corpus and equal justice? Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. (All that money we’ve spent on advertising and propaganda, too, sending Karen Hughes to explain to the heathens how rich white moms do it in Texas … heck, everybody everywhere wants to rise up and overthrow their cultures and traditions so they can be like us. Don’t they?)
    If an incremental approach is the only actual alternative to engagement, it’s going to take a prolonged and tedious series of tiny increments. We’re basically starting over from scratch, and it doesn’t look like we’re planning to start any time soon. China isn’t hesitating about taking advantage of our dithering, either, with their new Iranian oil deal.
    What scares me is the suspicion that the real approach – and our secret, guilty, wild-eyed conviction – is the implausible and impossible strategy that all we really have to do is to Keep On Believing, to Just Be Us, an evanescent dreampath that leads to The Happy Ending. To that glimmering universe where there’s a McDonalds right inside the mosque and our “brown brothers” love us, happily accepting their meager ration of the world’s shrinking resources, the whole family tearfully waving a grateful goodbye with purple-stained fingers as we head home, vindicated by having fulfilled our destiny – sated, blessed, a little richer, our gas tanks topped up to “Full.”
    — Meanwhile, back in reality, this just in from AP:
    “Rumsfeld also said al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups have poisoned the Muslim public’s view of the United States through deft use of the Internet and other modern communications methods that the American government has failed to master.”
    — Erm, uhhhh … meanwhile, back in reality …

  2. Glen says:

    I don’t see any good way out of this mess. The neocons went into all of this with their eyes wide shut.
    Hm, a whole lotta people who have nuclear weapons and are idealogically opposed to us. I believe we called this the Cold War last time around.
    Here’s one vote for the incremental approach: It has always been much easier and cheaper to confront our enemies by clogging their arteries with fat from McDonalds than sending in the military.
    Call me dense, but when you refer to democracy run amok, is that our democracy or theirs? It’s getting tough to keep track.

  3. RJJ says:

    What about globalism run amok?
    One more confidence-inspiring move.

  4. RJJ says:

    And by way of confidence-inspiring, I admire Rumsfeld’s analysis: we don’t have the proper gear to win hearts and minds.
    There is a technological fix, and their cronies will provide it.

  5. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Not entirely accurate; US & UK destroyed nascnet secular democracy in Iran in 1953. Moreover, in the 1980s, US & EU supported the military government of Turkey to the hilt.

  6. jonst says:

    You wrote>>>>>> I see no evidence, anywhere, that groups fundamentally change their beliefs or behavior once they achieve power<<<<< Are you saying all groups, in general, that attain political power? Or, rather, groups in the ME?

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Do you have an example of one that did? Anywhere?

  8. jonst says:

    Yes, I do have examples. Many,at many places and many different times in history. However I suspect we would get caught up in defining the terms “achieve power” and “fundamentally change their beliefs or behavior”. I would argue among others, the North Vietnam govt post 1974. The African National Congress after the first elections. Tito, after coming to power. Stalin, post Lenin’s death. Deng, post Mao. The GOP, post 1968. i.e. Nixon and China, Nixon and Price and Wages controls, gold standard etc. Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya. Hitler, i.e. the slaughter of the Rohm and the ‘Old Guard’ and the abandonment of at least a pretense of socialism. I think the list could go on and on. But as I suspect, you could qualify each one one of my examples. You might argue that when Deng came to power it was over the same group that Mao controlled. I would disagree. I would say that Deng’s rise to power was fundamantally different dynamic. He came to power as a ‘left-winger’ but decided “what difference did it make if a cat was black or white so long as it caught mice?” You might argue these were mere tactical shifts but I would disagree with that assessment if you do.

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    You are right I would not consider any of these to be basic changes of character. pat

  10. jonst says:

    we agree to disagree.

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