It’s A Conundrum Inside A Problem Inside A Puzzle

Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) has a post up that captures the nub of a problem I’ve been chewing on for a while. Note that I don’t necessarily agree with Marc – but that it’s a problem well worth thinking through.

In a nutshell, if we believe that freedom and some form of a democratic / representative government are the keys to dismantling the more violent and hard-to-live-alongside versions of Islamism – how do we deal with the problem that in free elections in much of the Muslim world today, the Islamists – the hard-to-live-alongside ones – would be likely to win?

And what do we do then? Lynch says:

This selective outrage, where Westerners care about one anti-Islamist blogger but can’t be bothered about equally arbitrary and illiberal repression of hundreds of Islamists, only reinforces general skepticism that this isn’t really about freedom, human rights, or democracy. It’s just like the American focus on the release of jailed liberal politician Ayman Nour as a litmus test for the Egyptian regime (one which it continues to fail, by the way, without seeming to suffer the slightest penalty). I can not exaggerate how many times I hear from Arabs and Muslims that America’s campaign against Hamas after it won fair elections and its blind eye to Mubarak’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood proves once and for all the fundamental hypocrisy of its democracy talk. I am not criticizing anyone for rallying to Nabeel’s or Nour’s defense. They should. But they should also see this as part of a comprehensive regime crackdown on Egyptian political opposition, with the attack on the Muslim Brotherhood the leading edge of the regime’s anti-democratic backlash. People who claim to care about Egyptian reform, democratization, and human rights should take a slightly wider view of the problem than the travails of one anti-Islamist blogger or one liberal politician.

I’ll discuss this more when I get some time tonight…but the conundrum presented here is a serious one. If we believe we can avoid conflict by doing the right thing, and doing the right thing means handing power to people who are determined to have a conflict with us…there’s a good chance we’ve got issues with the way we’re formulating the problem.

37 thoughts on “It’s A Conundrum Inside A Problem Inside A Puzzle”

  1. Not necessarily. The MONEY is OURS! We get to decide who gets it no matter what. If we don’t like them for any reason whatsoever, we don’t have to send them the cash. We support democray, big “D” and little “d”, but we don’t have to send them our cash unless it’s in our national interest. That’s not hypocrisy; that’s common sense. If the people want to elect thugs and terrorist, they can live with them and support them w/o us.

  2. The issue should pivot on a principle that democracy should not be allowed to commit suicide, that suicidal behaviour is a sign of illness both in people and in society. Democracy should not be used to extinguish itself.

  3. I sympathize with Abu Ardvaark’s point, but I would venture further: No doubt having hardliners win elections would create all sorts of problems. But it might have some auspicious effects as well:

    1. Instead of perpetually rebelling and rabble-rousing, hardliners would become accountable for actually delivering improvements in quality of life (e.g. the short-sighted social welfare measures after Iran’s revolution). Failure to do so would lead to disillusionment.

    2. Hardline electoral victory shifts the playing field in a way that is advantageous to the U.S. and disadvantageous for Islamists. The U.S. is clearly far more comfortable and skilled at fighting or containing nation-states than transnational, networked insurgencies. Electoral victory would manifest the hardliners in a form that we can fix and identify much more easily.

    Naturally, nothing is easy. Some “states” without much of a local Leviathan resemble networks more than states (Pakistan). Some states mimic insurgent-like behavior because it works well against the U.S. (Iran). No state, even the most rigorously controlled internally, does whatever the U.S. demands (North Korea). So when I say the U.S. is better dealing with states than non-state actors, I don’t mean that it deals perfectly with either.

    The poster children for “hardline electoral victory” are post-Saddam Iraq and Egypt (and Syria, I suppose). I sumbit that either one would look more like North Korea than Pakistan or Somalia. Are nuclear weapons more worrisome in the hands of Pakistan or North Korea? (Obviously others may view their relative stability differently.) Would you rather fight Egypt or the Muslim Brotherhood?

    The real concern is not that these states would suddenly pose a significant new threat to the West, but that the hardline victors would crush their opponents and minorities even more ruthlessly than do their current oppressors. Would the U.S. still turn a blind eye to that?

  4. A.L.

    Perhaps then we shouldn’t see this as a conundrum but as an exposure of the fallacy in the initial assumption. Perhaps the belief that promoting democracy is key to reducing the spread of violent Islamic extremism is a misguided belief.

    I would argue that jihadism is an intellectual movement that operates at two levels–individual and supranational–that will always be relatively free from interference at the national level where democracy operates. Democracy is not an antidote or alternative to jihadism.

    I think that is one problem that faces us. The other problem apropos of your posting is that western interference in middle eastern affairs is one of the several forces that entice people toward jihadism as a supranationalist vision. what we might want to rethink is to what extent in the modern world a superpower is any longer allowed to excerise its power politically outside its own borders without significant unwanted repercussions.

  5. Is it possible to control how that money is better spent in these countries?

    For example: I won’t give change to someone holding a sign at the corner of the road (who knows what they’ll do with it?) but I have given food to homeless, and I typically give my change to organizations that will use it properly.

    Can we put together something similar… I’m sorry, we don’t want our money going to terrorist organizations, but we will build an american hospital here, that we will personally staff and cover the medical expenses incurred . Something like this has the dual effect of 1)making sure that money doesn’t build organizations monopolized by terrorist interests and 2)it gets the american name out into places where we have a bad reputation. If someone’s family member is sick and dying, and they go to a hospital which indicates preety clearly that it’s american, it may help our global image.

    Of course, then you have to worry about the bombers…. but it’s a thought.

  6. AL et al, isn’t the value provided by democracy that (of the available political systems) it maximizes the extent and degree of self-determination, one of the core drives of human nature? IMHO, this is what we ought to continue to advocate, even when it does not mean the direct implementation of full democracy, which is unlikely to take in a culture until enough of the population realizes that their own self-determination is best protected by defending it for everyone. Just a thought.

  7. It is similar to a mental exercise given to my 7th grade class by our social studies teacher.

    The question was this:

    You live in a truly perfect tolerant society where all are entitled toward their own views and ways to live, as defined by themselves, no matter what. However, can you also include those who do not believe this is right, and will do anything and everything in their power (kill, rape, torture, etc), to tear down your society and impose their viewpoint on everyone else?

    Or to summarize, can a truly tolerant society tolerate the violently intolerant?

    By the principles of this theoretical truly tolerant society, you would have to. It is the way they chose to live. However, realistically, you could not. You would have to defend yourself from such people, because if you do not, not only will they kill you and yours, they will force whoever is left into a form of slavery; and your truly tolerant society won’t be tolerant anymore.

    The point was made, and was hardly what you’d call politically correct. Put bluntly, no society can be truly tolerant. It’s impossible. There will always be those that try to tear down a free and tolerant society and impose their will upon it. You either defend yourself from such an assault, submit to it, or die. Yet, it seems this perfection is the standard to which several of our own and others about us try to hold ourselves in situations such as the one where we are mentioned not to give a damn about the jailed Islamists.

    Most Islamists want us dead, the memory of us erased, and the very idea of an existence like ours permanently wiped out.

    The blogger was right, it’s not about democracy. It’s about trying to put in power the ones that don’t want us dead and defeat the ones that want us dead. The alternative is a war in which we will have to hunt down and kill every single Muslim on the planet, as they will, at that point, have proven they are incapable of living with the rest of the world…and that’s something I doubt any reasonable and good human being would ever want or wish for.

  8. This ignores the real issue.

    The real issue is Muslims, and Islam. Neither are capable of the fundamental requirements of modern western democracy: freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of women, rule of secular law, separation of religion from the state, and protection of minority rights.

    You can have all the Democracy you want and Muslims will resemble a lynch mob of the KKK due to their total rejection of the above requirements for modern civilization.

    Muslims may produce a few isolated reformers like the Egyptian blogger, but that’s all. Islam’s total civilizational failure can be seen it’s inability to produce a single world class competitive company. No Honda, no Toyota, no Nokia, no Hyundai, no Checkpoint firewall.

    The only way Muslims will reform themselves to adopt the fundamental aspects of modernity in any degree is by a total and catastrophic defeat of their civilization such that no arguments can be made that enough “pure Islam” will rectify Islam’s failures to be even marginally competitive with other civilizations.

  9. American civil religion views freedom and self-determination as absolute goods available to everyone. The practical problem is that a free self-government will only emerge with a base level of security and economic development.

    Gaza will not be a democracy if it insists on continuing a conflict with Israel. I would make this same claim about the other emerging democracies in the region (if say, the Iraq government was chestbeating about grievances with Iran). It will not stabalize, it will be beset by conflict from without and within. If Hamas will not take the basic steps to support its democracy, then the U.S. can’t help it.

    The MB is a harder issue. It has history . . . and as a political organization its illegal. But it also seems like it has benefited from the government’s high-handed policies that have prevented the formation of other parties independent of the safety of the mosques. I note Freedom House’s 2006 summary:

    bq. _Egypt’s witnessed its most transparent and competitive presidential and legislative elections in more than half a century and an increasingly unbridled public debate on the country’s political future in 2005. Limited reforms promulgated by the government of President Hosni Mubarak did not allow for sweeping political change, however, while the arrest and prosecution of Egypt’s leading secular liberal opposition leader was a stark reminder that the government has not forsworn arbitrary and ruthless suppression of dissent._

    Is it paternalistic to find it difficult to find a way to encourage the good and discourage the bad?

  10. Piercello,

    I think people often confuse self-determination with democracy. It’s quite possible that a group of people because of their cultural or religious beliefs will freely choose an undemocratic system of gov’t. Some people will believe that God’s law is higher than man’s law and that a system based upon and enforcing God’s law is superior to, say, mob rule.

    Allowing self-determination may or may not lead to democracy; democracy is one means of achieving self-determination.

  11. mark,

    But again the issue is “What if the God’s law that is enforced involves violent aggression against non-believers?” which isn’t such a bad one line summary of the Islamist position we face.

  12. Steve B., In that case, the issue becomes one of self-defense…self-defense is an important element of self-determination. If, for example, the democratically elected Senate of the United States declared war on Canada and the democratically-elected president sent troops to invade Canada, Canada would have every right to defend itself.

    I think another priniclple can come into play as well. Suppose most Canadians decided they’d had just about enough of these Mid-Easterners and started slaughtering all the moselms in the country. The U.S. would have every right to intervene militarily to stop such genocide.

    But in each of the above cases, we are talking about a nation’s actions, not beliefs.

  13. My sense has always been that it’s better for Islamists to have things to worry about at home.

    If you elect an Islamist government, they’ve got to fix the sewers. They’ve got to deal with their neighbors. They’ve got, in other words, a lot of problems that require their attention. And attention is really the limited resource these days.

    An opposition party or radical group can spend all its time making trouble. A government has to govern at least some of the time. Plus, it has hard interests that may cause it to negotiate sometimes.

    Once in a while you may elect a government of Islamists or others who will insist on doing something we really can’t accept, such as harboring terrorist groups or using terrorism as a means of furthering national policy. There will be fewer such, however, if we become consistent in punishing the exemplar nations (such as Iran); and, if it really becomes necessary to collapse their government and return them to the status of “radical group,” we can, ala Afghanistan.

    Still, in general, I like the idea of them being kept busy. Give them something else to think about, and some issues where they can suddenly see how nice it would be if the US or the West wasn’t an implacable enemy.

  14. Good question – it’s one that any rightthinking person interested in successful and better international relations should take up.

    One quick thing to Jim Rockford, or those who think like him: –

    “The real issue is Muslims, and Islam. Neither are capable of the fundamental requirements of modern western democracy: freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of women, rule of secular law, separation of religion from the state, and protection of minority rights.”

    There is an element of Islam, that is, as a percentage, more likely to veer to theocracy, than a stable democracy.

    But it is a PERCENTAGE change, not an either on/off shift. Whatever the percentage of influence the Islamic religion has, to motivate SOME believers in that religion (but NOT ALL, by a longshot) to work for a theology, can clearly be mitigated, or eliminated, by other social factors. People are people, wherever they are. The social, economic, and cultural factors all influence each other, of which religion is but one factor.

    Some numbers for you:

    2 millions americans are Muslim
    177 million Indonesians are Muslim
    70 million Turkish are Muslim

    Not to mention, all Kurdish people are also Muslim.

    I would venture to say that, of the populations above, most are more than happy with the freedoms listed, and living and functioning in a society where those freedoms are practiced.

    Also not to mention, as a population base, of the 1 billion or so Muslims, a small small small fraction of those engage in violence to promote a theocracy.

    Usually, violence has other factors that are cultural, nationalistic, or economic.

    In the case of Iraq, all three. In the case of the Middle East, also, all four factors are a concern:

    a. Tribalism/repressive culture
    b. Economic issues, with oil in the region,
    c. and a history of elites siding with Western powers to “hobble” both democracy and the average citizen. The only outlet for the reaction against, has historically been either Islamist fundamentalists, or a particular strain of Middle East authoritarianism. Reaction against “invading powers” is natural, to an extent. Think Red Dawn
    d. Religion

    I don’t think there is a good answer to A.L.’s question. I DO think the U.S.’s main concern is access to oil. Otherwise, the U.S. would write off the area, as it currently writes off Africa.

    One suggested solution is lots of regulated funds for development. A sort of flexible Marshall Plan for the country, or area in question, that is incentivized based on adopting certain policies. Right now with Egypt, we only give a lumpsum, as part of the peace treaty with Israel. The incentive there for Egypt is, don’t be in conflict with Israel, the US gives you a billion a year. (Pretty good incentive.)

    That type of giving, tied to a certain result, but without the “kickback” to the US economic elites that a lot of these agreements end up having – that MIGHT work.

    But in the case where all four factors above create a witches brew – such as Iraq – not much can be done there, with the incentives described.

    Not without half a million boots on the ground, enforcing peace.

  15. I think that, if we were starting from 20 years ago or even from the end of Gulf War I, the answer would be that we should promote economic liberalization and development even in the absence of political liberalization. Basically, this echoes what PD Shaw wrote above:

    The practical problem is that a free self-government will only emerge with a base level of security and economic development.

    Unfortunately, we’re not starting 20 years ago and IMO the forces of intolerance and violence in the Middle East are such that the only humane, practical alternative left us is to tighten up on our own border security (a tall order) and hunker down.

  16. Correction – more like 18 million Muslims in the U.S, as of 2000. I left off a zero when I saw the number 1.8 million, and then rounded up to 2 million.

    But somewhere between 18 million and 20 million Muslims in the U.S.

  17. Fun fact about Morocoo, an Islamic country –

    _Morocco was the first nation, in 1777, to recognize the fledgling United States as an independent nation. In the beginning of the American Revolution, American merchant ships were subject to attack by the Barbary Pirates while sailing the Atlantic ocean. At this time, American envoys tried to obtain protection from European powers, but to no avail. On December 20, 1777, Morocco’s Sultan declared that the American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage._

    _The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.’s oldest non-broken friendship treaty. Signed by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, it has been in continuous effect since 1786. After the organization of the American government under the Constitution, President George Washington wrote a now venerated letter to the Sultan Sidi Mohamed strengthening the ties between the two countries. The United States legation (consulate) in Tangier is the first property the American government ever owned abroad. The building now houses the Tangier American Legation Museum._

    So the United States oldest unbroken treaty is with an Islamic country, as well as the fact that an Islamic country was the 1st to recognize the United States.

  18. Mark makes the good point that self-determination and democracy are not identical. Neither are democracy and freedom. Democracy without limits on the power of government over the citizenry (e.g., a Bill of Rights) can easily devolve into tyranny. Coexistence with a religion that has no history of separation of secular and sacred can make delimiting the boundary of government power more problematic. If the government has the literal power of life and death over its citizenry, then the control of that power becomes a matter of life and death, and will be fought for accordingly.

    Democracy even without such limits does have uses, in addition to those Grim lays out. It yields a certain amount of moral clarity, elimating apologist dodges about how a population only supports terror because they are forced to it. When they elect it – see Hamas – then the moral stance of the population is clear, and can be confronted clearly.

    Because there’s no reason a nominal or real democracy should get any sort of pass in acting against our interests, or other’s for that matter. It’s not the form of government, it’s the actions taken (watch the feet moving, not the mouth talking). There’s an unconfirmed hypothesis that representative governments are less likely to fight each other, and more likely to create prosperity that leads to disinterest in war, but that’s a theory at test, not a security policy. And giving adventurists a pass in the name of democracy is the worst kind of moral hazard writ large. (I’m sure those who have spent the last years lambasting BushCo would have to agree.)

    To be sure there is the issue of ‘access’ to oil that complicates things in the ME, as HR suggests. But he understates the problem. It’s the cash flows that come with the oil that allow governments to ignore other means of economic development, and produce the surpluses that all too often flow into terrorists’ and Islamists’ hands. If access alone were the issue, we could fix that all too quickly with a few divisions and a mass population move. It’s to our credit that we haven’t procured that type of ‘access’ so far. It’s intersecting 21st century globalization and 7th century religion that’s creating the problem.

  19. It’s chilly in hell, because I think our old friend HR has it more or less exactly right.

    Except for the access to oil bit. If Africa started exporting terrorists, we’d stop ignoring them. Oil enables that export by financing it, but the last time someone actually shut off the oil (OPEC did it, Iran started to after the revolution) the US did squat militarily.

    Heck, I’m sure Saddam would have sold us much more than he did, and at a discount, too.

  20. Going further afield – an observation/question to historians – does anyone else find it interesting how events, or conflicts, from nearly one hundred years ago, still seem eerily pertinent, and have an impact, in today’s world?

    This post of A.L.’s, got me looking at “the Ottoman Empire.”:

    Which led to me to two interesting places

    “List of countries created by dissolution and partitioning of the Ottoman Empire”:

    It’s like a list of regional “trouble spots”, for the 20th and 21st century:


    * Albania (Shkoder, Valore, Tirana) (1410-1912)
    * Bosnia and Herzegovina (1483-1878)
    * Bulgaria (1395-1878)
    * Crete (1669-1908)
    * Crimea (1475-1783)
    * Croatia (Slavonia, Lika) (1529-1699)
    * Cyclades Islands (1566-1830)
    * Cyprus (1570-1914)
    * Dodecanese Islands (1522-1912)
    * Greece (1460-1831)
    * Hungary (1541-1699)
    * Macedonia (Skopje) (1371-1913)
    * Moldova (1526-1812)
    * Montenegro (1498-1878)
    * North Aegean Islands (1677-1912)
    * Otranto (1480-1481)
    * Podolia (1672-1699)
    * Rhodes (1522-1912)
    * Romania (Wallachia) (1512-1877)
    * Romania (Moldavia) (1417-1877)
    * Romania (Transylvania) (1541-1699)
    * Saronic Islands (1460-1830)
    * Serbia (Belgrade, Nish, Kalemegdan) (1521-1804)
    * Sporades Islands (1538-1830)


    * Aden (1538-1839)
    * Abadan (1514-1529, 1543-1623, 1639-1847)
    * Abkhazia (1578-1810)
    * Armenia (Yerevan) (1514-1618) (historical west Armenia hitherto)
    * Azerbaijan (Baku) (1516-1806)
    * Azerbaijan (Tabriz) (1585-1639)
    * Azerbaijan (Karabakh) (1557-1730)
    * Dagestan (1645-1730)
    * Georgia (country) (1516-1603, 1620-1683, 1727-1735)
    * Hamadan (1721-1730, 1916-1918)
    * Iraq (Baghdad, Basra, Mosul) (1534-1917)
    * Kuwait (1534-1914)
    * Jordan (1516-1918)
    * Lebanon (Beirut, Acre, Saidon) (1516-1918)
    * Luristan (1587-1639)
    * Oman (1550-1551, 1581-1588, 1659-1741)
    * Palestine (1516-1918)
    * Qatar (1871-1916)
    * Saudi Arabia (El Hasa) (1871-1913)
    * Saudi Arabia (Hejaz) (1517-1916)
    * Saudi Arabia (Nejd) (1817-1902)
    * Saudi Arabia (Asir) (1871-1914)
    * Syria (Damascus, Aleppo) (1516-1918)
    * Yemen (1517-1636, 1872-1918)


    * Algeria (Algiers) (1536-1830)
    * Algeria (Constantine) (1637-1830)
    * Algeria (Oran) (1708-1732, 1792-1831)
    * Egypt (1517-1798, 1801-1914)
    * Eritrea (Masawa) (1557-1884)
    * Libya (Cyrenaica) (1521-1911)
    * Libya (Tripolitania) (1551-1912)

    “rise of European nationalism in the Ottoman Empire”:

    Balkan Wars anybody?

    I, of course, have no way to ferret out how “imposed partioning by an outside power, is different or distinguishable from home-brewed ethnic nationalism.

    But, it looks like the partitioning of the Ottoman empire, with the artificial lines of empire created on an abstract grid, without referencing the territory, adds to an already difficult problem of ethnic national tribalism.

    Still being played out in Iraq, Syria, etc – right now.

  21. #17,

    There are 70 million Muslims in America. If you cout each one 35 times.


    There is nothing like bad government to eventually move thing in another direction.

    Iran is a case in point there are a lot of friends of Israel and America there. Why? The rulers hate America and Israel and the people hate their rulers.

  22. I think we (and Marc) are dealing with a problem of definition.

    Democracy does not equal Election. If we judge the win or loss solely on the results of an election, then we end up with bad answers.

    Instead of pushing for the fastest possible election, USG policy should be in for the long haul, creating the civil society necessary to support a meaningful and useful election. Carts and horses here….

  23. _where do you get 20 million?_

    Clearly by flunking basic f**king math. What a godd*mn idiot move.

    Senility must be kicking in….

    what happens when you up and decided to treat .6 percent of a population of 300 million, as SIX percent of a population?

    I was closer the first time…at any rate, between 5 and 6 percent, so 1,500,000 to 1,800,000. I was right the first time.

  24. re self-determination. I think in the context of this discussion, self-determination has to have the meaning assigned in the Declaration of Independence, since its those ideals with are being challenged. According to that document the Just Powers of the government derive from the consent of the governed in order to protect certain inherent and unalienable rights.

    If people were to consent to despotism, then this analysis is flawed. It is either flawed in its view of human nature or something else. I would suggest that people who consent to tyrany have had their consent coerced, either by violence, the fear of violence or economic misfortune, such as hunger. poverty, or dependency. Thus it is difficult to imagine any meaningful democracy existing absent some floor of security and economic development.

  25. #24 alludes to the problem. The democracy we seek is not synonymous with elections. What we want is a (classically) liberal democracy.

    But if you look at our history, we acheived that as an outgrowth of the Enlightment. It was the spirit of free inquiry, and respect for freedom of conscience that resulted from a profound lack of desire for continued bloodshed on a massive scale.

    The current plan puts the cart before the horse. The culture has to support peaceful disagreement, especially about matters of faith, before you can have a functioning liberal democracy. By failing to recognize this precondition, all we’re doing is formalizing mob rule.

    To be fair, until we tried it, we couldn’t know that this way wouldn’t work. But now we do know, so there’s little excuse not to learn from the lesson we’ve created.

  26. I think we have to consider sometimes that our greatest accomplishments against communism have come through capitalism… If you look at our previous enemies those that we traded with (Russia, China) have now ended their anti-capitalistic ways (well, at least in the open) wheras countries that we refused to deal with (or refused to deal with us) such as North Korea, Cuba etc are still mostly unchanged.

    Iran used a similar strategy a few years ago when student protests were filling their streets. They granted a number of low-interest loans to young students and professionals, who soon became so busy starting businesses and raising families that the protests bascially ended overnight.

    Give people an industry to thrive in, something to work towards, and I think you’ll find that people want to settle in more. Suddenly, rocking the boat doesn’t seem like such a great idea.

    Of course, this won’t affect the hardliners, but it may be a way of removing support for hardliners from the general community.

  27. hypocrisyrules: Thanks for the fact.

    It didn’t hurt that our political elite at the time were deists (There Is Only One God) who denied Jesus’s divinity (And ‘Isa Is His Prophet). Jefferson was the most egregious of these, cutting up the Gospels so as to make of them a collection of what a Moor would recognise as “hadith”. (Especially if the Moor were a Sufi!)

    In 1796, John Adams’s ambassador told the Libyans that “America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”, still the truth as of then.

    [I’m veering off topic here, but I’d argue that starting with the Great Awakening of the early 1800s, America was wrenched from its deist (and elitist) roots and refounded, this time on popular evangelical Protestantism. Mormonism, and then the anti-polygamy movement; abolitionism, civil rights, and against both the pro-slavery fundamentalist movement; agrarian populism; and Prohibition: these weren’t necessarily religious conflicts, but unlike the Revolution they were argued on the basis of religion (rather than of Enlightenment “Common Sense”).]

    America was spared an Islamic elite, partly because the second generation sported men like John Quincy Adams – who took the time to read up on Islam on its own terms rather than as the great alternative to Christianity. JQA didn’t like it.

  28. The reason the US (and Israel) are witholding support from Hamas is not because the US and Israel are against Palestinian democracy; but because Hamas has vowed, and continues to vow, to destroy Israel, and is actively working toward that end.

    Presumably, Israel must support Hamas, even though Hamas’s platform is Israel’s destruction. The reason for this support: because Hamas won the last Palestinian election.

    Presumably, therefore, Israel must support its own destruction (in the interest of peace and democrac-promotion, of course).

    And presumably, the US, too, (along with every other country for whom Middle-East peace and/or “democratic values”—take yer pick—is the ultimate goal) must agree to support Israel’s destruction.

    (Ah, but should I have said, “And presumably, the US, too…must agree to support a regime whose policy is Israel’s destruction”??)

    But of course this is the case. (And what could be more reasonable!) Israel must support a regime whose policy is Israel’s destruction, in the interest of fostering dialogue and understanding. Of not closing the door on the peace process.

    Clear enough?

    Gosh, they must think we’re really stupid….

    (And just what, pray tell, might make them think so?)

  29. Democracy is content neutral.

    “The issue should pivot on a principle that democracy should not be allowed to commit suicide, that suicidal behaviour is a sign of illness both in people and in society. Democracy should not be used to extinguish itself.”

    Freedom is also about being allowed to make mistakes, this is one of the reasons Conservatives dislike the worst tendencies of the nanny-state, where people must be protected from themselves.

    The crux, however, is that their mistakes can have harmful consequences for us. Obviously, neither Hamas nor the Muslim Brotherhood are a step forward for the US in the War on Terror. Even if they aren’t specifically in league with Al Qaeda, their type certainly would not aid infidels against pious Muslims.

    We’re at war with people that live within nations that we aren’t technically at war with. Sometimes, their leadership is even on our side against the people.

    The problem is that somewhere along the line we decided that many of these nations shouldn’t be held responsible for actions that traditionally would have been regarded as casus bellis. In the old days, you were typically held responsible for what came out of your country.

    Part of this has to do with weak states, but we also allow these mulligans even when we know they -do- have the authority to stop violence coming from their countries. And even when the prople vote for it themselves.

    Remove incentives, keep sending money, ignore hostility, and there’s less reason for correction.

  30. I think there is a clarifying effect to having elections that give power to an Islamist government. If a majority of the people in Egypt hate the
    West and want to conquer us and install Sharia all over the world, it is better to make that clear to everyone. Then there is no pretense that only a small minority of Muslims hate the west.

    Maybe this is wrong, but if Egypt puts up an Islamist government and wants to attack Israel, I say have right at it. And put all your jihadis up front, we know those boys are fighters.

  31. John C. Calhoun once said (I’m paraphrasing a bit), “Liberty, for those unprepared for it, far from being a blessing, is a curse.” Savages are like children, they need a strongman kicking ass or nothing gets done. Well, nothing except slaughtering each other. Give them a democracy and they’ll _elect_ a strongman. It’s all they know. The only question worth our consideration is, is it going to be a strongman who supports, or at least doesn’t interfere with, our interests or is it going to be a strongman who works against our interests? We should support the former and crush the latter. Long term, that’s the only way to survive in a brutal, violent world.

  32. Fred, I would actually that your strategy is short term thinking. You support a dictator he does some really bad things to stay in power. When he gets pulled down, the rest of the country vehemently hates us because we supported him while he was doing those very bad things.

    Iran is a great example of things going bad and getting worse for a long time. We supported the Shah, and then when his goverment collapsed it generated the anti-american goverment which led to the hostage crisis, and our countries have been unable to work together since.

    I still say the key is in developing some basic economic prosperity in these countries, which leads to more education, which leads to westernization…. and hopefully this will lead to democracy eventually.

  33. You may be right alchemist. But it’s hard to argue that the mullahs are any better than the Shah. They seem to provide evidence for my argument that it’s either one sort of strongman or another in places like that. I’d also argue that one reason the Shah fell in the first place was Jimmy Carter’s lukewarm (at best) support for him. We also failed to eliminate the mullahs when they handed us a reason on a silver platter in 1979, a failure I would argue led directly to 9/11. I hope I’m wrong, but I believe our misguided attempt to plant democracy in the sandy soil and arid climate of the middle east will have consequences as bad or worse than our failure to prop up the Shah or eliminate the mullahs.

  34. The personal income of Iranians today is 2/3rds what is was before the Revolution. The human rights abuses under the Shah (largely aimed at political dissenters) have expanded to all aspects of social life, i.e. totalitarianism. Iranians were on the verge of European standards of living and justifiably angry at the state’s thugishness, when it all became worse, much worse.

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