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Posts For: February 13, 2011

Egypt Revolt: A Testament to American Power

It has become fashionable to talk about the Egyptian revolt as “not about the United States” or “beyond our control.” There is a small measure of commonsense truth to this observation. But usually it is offered up as an expression of glee by declinists who believe America will soon and inexorably cease to be a player on the global stage. About this, they are mistaken. In fact, events in Egypt prove that the continued reach of American power is very real. The only thing in doubt is whether the Obama administration chooses to wield it.

Some on this blog have commented on the connection between President George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda and the popular revolution that seized Egypt last week. Most of this commentary has rightly pointed to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak as a vindication of Bush’s political worldview, which posits individual liberty as the desire of all humankind.

But the story doesn’t end there. As Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami said on Fox News: “[Bush] can definitely claim paternity. … One despot fell in 2003. We decapitated him. Two despots, in Tunisia and Egypt, fell, and there is absolutely a direct connection between what happened in Iraq in 2003 and what’s happening today throughout the rest of the Arab world.” The American toppling of Saddam and the effort to establish Iraqi democracy, however flawed, made consensual Arab governance irrefutably thinkable. Read More

It has become fashionable to talk about the Egyptian revolt as “not about the United States” or “beyond our control.” There is a small measure of commonsense truth to this observation. But usually it is offered up as an expression of glee by declinists who believe America will soon and inexorably cease to be a player on the global stage. About this, they are mistaken. In fact, events in Egypt prove that the continued reach of American power is very real. The only thing in doubt is whether the Obama administration chooses to wield it.

Some on this blog have commented on the connection between President George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda and the popular revolution that seized Egypt last week. Most of this commentary has rightly pointed to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak as a vindication of Bush’s political worldview, which posits individual liberty as the desire of all humankind.

But the story doesn’t end there. As Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami said on Fox News: “[Bush] can definitely claim paternity. … One despot fell in 2003. We decapitated him. Two despots, in Tunisia and Egypt, fell, and there is absolutely a direct connection between what happened in Iraq in 2003 and what’s happening today throughout the rest of the Arab world.” The American toppling of Saddam and the effort to establish Iraqi democracy, however flawed, made consensual Arab governance irrefutably thinkable.

But if that connection is not solid enough to satisfy declinists, consider how Barack Obama’s predecessor — with a good deal of help from Liz Cheney — directly impacted the cause of Egyptian democracy. The Boston Globe reports that the “administration increased funding for good governance and democracy in Egypt, from $3.5 million in 2005 to $55 million in 2008.” When it became clear that too much of that money found its way into the wrong hands, Liz Cheney’s project within the State Department, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, began conscientiously funneling aid to independent democracy groups in Egypt. It is well known that the administration regrettably backtracked on the Freedom Agenda in its last years. And as the article notes: “When Obama took office, his administration halved the amount of money available for democracy funding in Egypt, to $20 million in 2008, and allowed Egypt to have a veto again over some funds.”

Nevertheless, the program put in place by Bush was able to dispatch 13,000 election monitors to Egypt for last December’s parliamentary elections. Their ability to record and publicize the electoral fraud they witnessed was a crucial factor in the unrest that followed. “In a way or another, it helped what is happening right now,’’ said Mahmoud Ali Mohamed, head of the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democracy. Saad Ibrahim, founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, said, “The very fact that they saw the fraud firsthand has contributed to them turning from monitors into activists.”

While the Western left and the incoherent cynics who now label themselves “realist” celebrate American ineffectiveness abroad, they have not bothered to consider how a 30-year-old dictatorship came unexpectedly to crumble before an Arab population demanding representative government. In equating American power only with bombs and tanks, the anti-neocon brigade allowed itself to be blindsided, just like the Mubarak regime. Despite their fervent wishes, the U.S. still has the ability to project power and effect change around the world. We have, to some degree, just witnessed that in historic fashion. It goes without saying that the Egyptian people are to be credited and commended for having stood up bravely to a deadly, despotic regime. But what’s not said enough is that America can play a critical role in helping its brave allies — real allies — change the course of history. It is up to Barack Obama to continue to use American leverage in Egypt. If he follows the wisdom of the declinists, we will witness more than the relative weakening of American influence. The U.S. will have set the stage for the unprecedented deterioration of freedoms in a convulsing Middle East and beyond.

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Iran Outlaws Valentine’s Day

Continuing its quest to become a cartoonish stereotype of an evil empire, the Iranian government has decided to outlaw Valentine’s Day.

“Symbols of hearts, half-hearts, red roses, and any activities promoting this day are banned,” announced state media last month, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Melik Kaylan. “Authorities will take legal action against those who ignore the ban.”

Valentine’s Day is only the latest in a long list of benign activities criminalized by the Iranian regime:

The Iranian state has pronounced against unauthorized mingling of the sexes, rap music, rock music, Western music, women playing in bands, too-bright nail polish, laughter in hospital corridors, ancient Persian rites-of-spring celebrations (Nowrooz), and even the mention of foreign food recipes in state media. This last may sound comically implausible, but it was officially announced by a state-run website on Feb. 6. So now the true nature of pasta as an instrument of Western subversion has been revealed. …

In the end, Iran’s rulers face an impossible task. Their genesis myth of a society based on a codified schema of sacred laws looks neither codified nor sacred. It convinces no one. Instead, the regime seems dedicated above all to stamping out joy wherever it may accidentally arise—a sour, paranoid struggle against irrepressible forces of nature, change, the seasons, music, romance and laughter. The Iranian people can take comfort: No earthly authority has won that particular contest for long.

Coincidentally, February 14 is the same day the Iranian anti-government Green movement has planned a massive protest. Iran has been ramping up its crackdown on dissent after the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Continuing its quest to become a cartoonish stereotype of an evil empire, the Iranian government has decided to outlaw Valentine’s Day.

“Symbols of hearts, half-hearts, red roses, and any activities promoting this day are banned,” announced state media last month, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Melik Kaylan. “Authorities will take legal action against those who ignore the ban.”

Valentine’s Day is only the latest in a long list of benign activities criminalized by the Iranian regime:

The Iranian state has pronounced against unauthorized mingling of the sexes, rap music, rock music, Western music, women playing in bands, too-bright nail polish, laughter in hospital corridors, ancient Persian rites-of-spring celebrations (Nowrooz), and even the mention of foreign food recipes in state media. This last may sound comically implausible, but it was officially announced by a state-run website on Feb. 6. So now the true nature of pasta as an instrument of Western subversion has been revealed. …

In the end, Iran’s rulers face an impossible task. Their genesis myth of a society based on a codified schema of sacred laws looks neither codified nor sacred. It convinces no one. Instead, the regime seems dedicated above all to stamping out joy wherever it may accidentally arise—a sour, paranoid struggle against irrepressible forces of nature, change, the seasons, music, romance and laughter. The Iranian people can take comfort: No earthly authority has won that particular contest for long.

Coincidentally, February 14 is the same day the Iranian anti-government Green movement has planned a massive protest. Iran has been ramping up its crackdown on dissent after the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

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Is Ron Paul’s Straw Poll Success Actually Hurting Him Politically?

Ron Paul may have won the CPAC straw poll for the second year in a row, but that achievement hasn’t earned him any fans among some conservative activist groups. Young Americans for Freedom, a right-wing activist organization, has decided to remove Paul from its advisory board because of his positions on national-security issues:

“It’s a sad day in American history when a one-time conservative/libertarian stalwart has fallen more out of touch with America’s needs for national security then our current socialist presidential regime,” said the group’s national director Jordan Marks.

The dispute between Paul and the group seems to stem from Paul’s anti-war activities and the prominence of his supporters at conservative events like CPAC.

“Rep. Paul is clearly off his meds and must be purged from public office. YAF is starting the process by removing him from our national advisory board. Good riddance and he won’t be missed,” added Marks.

Based on the amount of tension between Paul’s supporters and mainstream conservatives at CPAC over the weekend, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It also raises a question about whether the straw poll actually hurts Paul. The congressman offered heavily discounted tickets, lodging, and transportation in order to draw his mainly college-aged supporters to the conference. The point was to pack the event so that Paul ended up winning the straw poll. But the congressman’s fans — who tend to be young, loud, and confrontational — often clashed with other attendees.

This ill-will was even more pronounced after a few audience members — reportedly Paul supporters — heckled speeches by Donald Rumsfeld and former vice president Dick Cheney last Friday. The hecklers yelled, “War criminal!” “Where’s bin Laden?” and “Dick, where are the shekels?” before being removed from the audience.

And the widespread annoyance with Paul’s fans seemed to translate into increased animosity toward the congressman himself. His statements on foreign policy were loudly booed by many in the audience. And, for the second year in a row, the crowd also jeered Paul’s straw-poll win.

A Paul win in the straw poll is so predictable that it indicates nothing. It may still get him some media attention, but in the end, it may prove of little account if he’s actually interested in winning the support of the conservative base.

Ron Paul may have won the CPAC straw poll for the second year in a row, but that achievement hasn’t earned him any fans among some conservative activist groups. Young Americans for Freedom, a right-wing activist organization, has decided to remove Paul from its advisory board because of his positions on national-security issues:

“It’s a sad day in American history when a one-time conservative/libertarian stalwart has fallen more out of touch with America’s needs for national security then our current socialist presidential regime,” said the group’s national director Jordan Marks.

The dispute between Paul and the group seems to stem from Paul’s anti-war activities and the prominence of his supporters at conservative events like CPAC.

“Rep. Paul is clearly off his meds and must be purged from public office. YAF is starting the process by removing him from our national advisory board. Good riddance and he won’t be missed,” added Marks.

Based on the amount of tension between Paul’s supporters and mainstream conservatives at CPAC over the weekend, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It also raises a question about whether the straw poll actually hurts Paul. The congressman offered heavily discounted tickets, lodging, and transportation in order to draw his mainly college-aged supporters to the conference. The point was to pack the event so that Paul ended up winning the straw poll. But the congressman’s fans — who tend to be young, loud, and confrontational — often clashed with other attendees.

This ill-will was even more pronounced after a few audience members — reportedly Paul supporters — heckled speeches by Donald Rumsfeld and former vice president Dick Cheney last Friday. The hecklers yelled, “War criminal!” “Where’s bin Laden?” and “Dick, where are the shekels?” before being removed from the audience.

And the widespread annoyance with Paul’s fans seemed to translate into increased animosity toward the congressman himself. His statements on foreign policy were loudly booed by many in the audience. And, for the second year in a row, the crowd also jeered Paul’s straw-poll win.

A Paul win in the straw poll is so predictable that it indicates nothing. It may still get him some media attention, but in the end, it may prove of little account if he’s actually interested in winning the support of the conservative base.

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Obama’s Freedom Agenda

The Bastille has fallen in Egypt, but it will be more difficult to create a constitutional democracy than it was in France in 1789 — and France did not do such a great job itself, as I recall. I knew Louis XVI; Louis XVI was a friend of mine; and Hosni Mubarak was no Louis XVI — he was a U.S. ally, welcomed at the White House a few months ago, praised by President Obama at that time as one of our “key partners.” A few months later, he was on par with Saddam Hussein.

With mass demonstrations against a tyrannical Iranian regime that stole a presidential election, Obama kept silent. When the military removed the president in Honduras pursuant to a judicial order and legislative ratification, Obama called it a coup. When the military removed the Egyptian president months before a scheduled election in which the president had pledged not to run again, Obama supported the removal as essential for freedom. There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

In 2009, Obama went to Cairo and assured Iran and Egypt — in his let-me-be-clear moment — that they did not need to worry about U.S. democracy-promotion:

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

In the same speech, Obama quoted Thomas Jefferson, saying “the less we use our power the greater it will be” — which perhaps explains Obama’s non-responses to Iran, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt, before he belatedly decided to impose a new system of government on Hosni Mubarak.

In Obama’s first two years, democracy was conspicuously absent from the “three Ds” in his secretary of state’s standard speech. As the Egyptian revolution heads toward the Bermuda Triangle that awaited the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions, the freedom agenda is being managed by an American president who did not believe in it in the first place; whose first two years were marked by confrontations with democratic allies and extended hands to autocratic adversaries; and who still has not scheduled a trip to Israel — the model for freedom in the Middle East.

It will take someone more perceptive than I to articulate the governing principles of the Obama freedom agenda.

The Bastille has fallen in Egypt, but it will be more difficult to create a constitutional democracy than it was in France in 1789 — and France did not do such a great job itself, as I recall. I knew Louis XVI; Louis XVI was a friend of mine; and Hosni Mubarak was no Louis XVI — he was a U.S. ally, welcomed at the White House a few months ago, praised by President Obama at that time as one of our “key partners.” A few months later, he was on par with Saddam Hussein.

With mass demonstrations against a tyrannical Iranian regime that stole a presidential election, Obama kept silent. When the military removed the president in Honduras pursuant to a judicial order and legislative ratification, Obama called it a coup. When the military removed the Egyptian president months before a scheduled election in which the president had pledged not to run again, Obama supported the removal as essential for freedom. There must be a coherent foreign policy in there somewhere.

In 2009, Obama went to Cairo and assured Iran and Egypt — in his let-me-be-clear moment — that they did not need to worry about U.S. democracy-promotion:

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

In the same speech, Obama quoted Thomas Jefferson, saying “the less we use our power the greater it will be” — which perhaps explains Obama’s non-responses to Iran, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Egypt, before he belatedly decided to impose a new system of government on Hosni Mubarak.

In Obama’s first two years, democracy was conspicuously absent from the “three Ds” in his secretary of state’s standard speech. As the Egyptian revolution heads toward the Bermuda Triangle that awaited the French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions, the freedom agenda is being managed by an American president who did not believe in it in the first place; whose first two years were marked by confrontations with democratic allies and extended hands to autocratic adversaries; and who still has not scheduled a trip to Israel — the model for freedom in the Middle East.

It will take someone more perceptive than I to articulate the governing principles of the Obama freedom agenda.

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Democracy Promotion and the Real Hypocrisy

My item on Friday, suggesting that Egypt’s experience shows that peaceful protests are a surer road to regime change than terrorism or guerrilla warfare, provoked an amusing reaction from the far-left corners of cyberspace. Leftist bloggers and Twitterers are agog that a “neocon warmonger” like me might actually support peaceful regime change. They are accusing me of hypocrisy for also favoring the liberation of Iraq by armed might.

Which only goes to show the dangers of thinking in clichés and slogans. If you actually believe “neocon=warmonger” then, yes, I can see why it might overload your mental circuitry to see a “neocon” applaud Egyptian protesters. But what this shows is not any hypocrisy on my part but rather the inadequacy of this cartoonish description of “neocons.”

In point of fact, my primary interest is in promoting the spread of liberal democracy, which I believe to be in America’s long-term interests. That’s why I have consistently favored popular rallies against autocrats, whether in Tehran or Cairo. Indeed, I believe it should be a major part of American foreign policy to encourage just such demonstrations, especially against hostile regimes such as those in Iran and Syria. But I also believe in fostering peaceful change even among allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Ronald Reagan, that arch “neocon warmonger” (or was he a “cowboy warmonger”? — I forget), was responsible for setting up the National Endowment for Democracy to pursue just such a policy.

That does not, of course, mean that we can possibly limit our foreign policy to encouraging peaceful protests. While, as I noted, “people power” is a more potent tool of regime change than insurgent violence, it has distinct limitations. No amount of popular protests would have dislodged Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990 — just as no popular pressure could possibly have dislodged Adolf Hitler from his conquests in Europe. Sometimes armed intervention is necessary — a point that should be controversial only among the most extreme pacifists such as Gandhi, who actually believed that “nonviolent resistance” could defeat the Nazis. (Orwell had a devastating takedown of this position, writing that “Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist.”) Read More

My item on Friday, suggesting that Egypt’s experience shows that peaceful protests are a surer road to regime change than terrorism or guerrilla warfare, provoked an amusing reaction from the far-left corners of cyberspace. Leftist bloggers and Twitterers are agog that a “neocon warmonger” like me might actually support peaceful regime change. They are accusing me of hypocrisy for also favoring the liberation of Iraq by armed might.

Which only goes to show the dangers of thinking in clichés and slogans. If you actually believe “neocon=warmonger” then, yes, I can see why it might overload your mental circuitry to see a “neocon” applaud Egyptian protesters. But what this shows is not any hypocrisy on my part but rather the inadequacy of this cartoonish description of “neocons.”

In point of fact, my primary interest is in promoting the spread of liberal democracy, which I believe to be in America’s long-term interests. That’s why I have consistently favored popular rallies against autocrats, whether in Tehran or Cairo. Indeed, I believe it should be a major part of American foreign policy to encourage just such demonstrations, especially against hostile regimes such as those in Iran and Syria. But I also believe in fostering peaceful change even among allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Ronald Reagan, that arch “neocon warmonger” (or was he a “cowboy warmonger”? — I forget), was responsible for setting up the National Endowment for Democracy to pursue just such a policy.

That does not, of course, mean that we can possibly limit our foreign policy to encouraging peaceful protests. While, as I noted, “people power” is a more potent tool of regime change than insurgent violence, it has distinct limitations. No amount of popular protests would have dislodged Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990 — just as no popular pressure could possibly have dislodged Adolf Hitler from his conquests in Europe. Sometimes armed intervention is necessary — a point that should be controversial only among the most extreme pacifists such as Gandhi, who actually believed that “nonviolent resistance” could defeat the Nazis. (Orwell had a devastating takedown of this position, writing that “Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist.”)

Assuming that we can agree on the occasional necessity of using force, the question becomes when and under what conditions. Like many liberal and conservative internationalists, I believe that sometimes we should intervene to stop the worst human-rights abuses — as we did in Bosnia and Kosovo. But in most cases, I believe that we should put our troops on the line only when there are pressing national-security interests at stake — as there were in the Balkans and also as I believe there were (and are) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We did not intervene in either Iraq or Afghanistan for the primary purpose of building democracy; we did it because of what were seen as direct threats to our security: namely, the Taliban’s close links with the perpetrators of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. As it turned out, those WMD programs were a lot less advanced than the CIA and other Western intelligence services had believed; Saddam Hussein had carried off a bluff that came back to bite him.

If we had known then what we learned subsequently about Iraqi WMD, I doubt that the Bush administration would have ever invaded — nor would I have favored invading. But you can’t play back history to revise it ex post facto. Given that we did invade Iraq and Afghanistan, the question then became what kind of regimes we wanted to leave behind. Some (e.g., Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld) didn’t seem to particularly care; he was primarily concerned about getting out ASAP — which didn’t, for some reason, endear him to many on the left who shared this shortsighted view.

“Neocons” like me, on the other hand, argued that there was scant chance of imposing a friendly dictator on a chaotic place like post-Saddam Iraq or post-Taliban Afghanistan. Our best bet for long-term stability, I believed (and still believe), was to create a democratic government that would rule with the assent of the people.

But Iraq and Afghanistan are unusual cases. No one ever suggested that we should be sending the American armed forces to knock off every dictatorial regime on the planet — that position is purely a product of leftist paranoia; it does not exist in the real world. Instead, I believe that the U.S. should encourage peaceful regime change where possible. When George W. Bush espoused a similar line, he was accused by many on the left of wishful thinking, a lack of realism, even of American imperialism. Now the left seems to be in favor of democracy promotion, too, at least in Tunisia and Egypt. Welcome to the “neocon warmongers” club.

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Egypt: Now for the Hard Part

There’s no guarantee, to put it mildly, that the politics of the new Egypt will resolve themselves in a positive direction — hopeful and amazing though the events of the past three weeks may have been. Democratic change and the avoidance of a radical Islamist regime are going to require a great deal of careful, complex work on the part of the United States, work of a kind that has always been anathema to people who hold the kinds of political views Barack Obama holds. According to those views, American intervention is a danger in itself, yet the role of the United States as a guide toward democracy in authoritarian regimes has been a vital and central one from Western Europe in the 1940s and 1950s to Central America and East Asia in the 1980s to Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s to the admittedly very unfinished businesses of Iraq and Afghanistan today.

I argue in the New York Post that this is the foreign-policy moment at which Obama can show he has achieved the standing and stature to serve a second term. And it will mean abandoning his intellectual origins and embracing America’s role both in public and behind the scenes:

Handling Egypt well is easy to define, if painstakingly difficult to accomplish. It means serving as a steward of the process of instituting the pillars of a civil society — free speech, free exercise of religion, the freedom to create independent political parties and factions and civil rights for women. But it will also mean making it clear that those attempting to midwife the birth of this foetus of a free society cannot supply the tools of destruction to those who would serve as its abortionists.

Democratic transitions are often aborted because they were hijacked by revolutionaries who made cynical but effective use of the new liberties afforded them to crush the new liberties of others and establish new and more dangerous forms of tyranny. That’s what happened in 1917 Russia, in 1979 Iran and other places.

It’s what didn’t happen in Europe after World War II. There, the United States, working on its own and in tandem with pro-democracy forces both inside Europe and in powerful private organizations like the AFL-CIO, did what it had to do to make it insuperably difficult for Communist parties that would’ve voluntarily pulled their nations behind the Iron Curtain to take power.

Obama must follow this course now. There is no small irony in this, since he so archly insisted during his campaign and early months of his presidency that such things were anathema to him. History has a sense of humor.

There’s no guarantee, to put it mildly, that the politics of the new Egypt will resolve themselves in a positive direction — hopeful and amazing though the events of the past three weeks may have been. Democratic change and the avoidance of a radical Islamist regime are going to require a great deal of careful, complex work on the part of the United States, work of a kind that has always been anathema to people who hold the kinds of political views Barack Obama holds. According to those views, American intervention is a danger in itself, yet the role of the United States as a guide toward democracy in authoritarian regimes has been a vital and central one from Western Europe in the 1940s and 1950s to Central America and East Asia in the 1980s to Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s to the admittedly very unfinished businesses of Iraq and Afghanistan today.

I argue in the New York Post that this is the foreign-policy moment at which Obama can show he has achieved the standing and stature to serve a second term. And it will mean abandoning his intellectual origins and embracing America’s role both in public and behind the scenes:

Handling Egypt well is easy to define, if painstakingly difficult to accomplish. It means serving as a steward of the process of instituting the pillars of a civil society — free speech, free exercise of religion, the freedom to create independent political parties and factions and civil rights for women. But it will also mean making it clear that those attempting to midwife the birth of this foetus of a free society cannot supply the tools of destruction to those who would serve as its abortionists.

Democratic transitions are often aborted because they were hijacked by revolutionaries who made cynical but effective use of the new liberties afforded them to crush the new liberties of others and establish new and more dangerous forms of tyranny. That’s what happened in 1917 Russia, in 1979 Iran and other places.

It’s what didn’t happen in Europe after World War II. There, the United States, working on its own and in tandem with pro-democracy forces both inside Europe and in powerful private organizations like the AFL-CIO, did what it had to do to make it insuperably difficult for Communist parties that would’ve voluntarily pulled their nations behind the Iron Curtain to take power.

Obama must follow this course now. There is no small irony in this, since he so archly insisted during his campaign and early months of his presidency that such things were anathema to him. History has a sense of humor.

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Hard to Take Palestinian Election Plan Seriously

Hard on the heels of the fall of Egypt’s Mubarak, another Arab authoritarian is trying to pretend to be a democratic leader. The Palestinian Authority announced on Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September. That sounds nice, but those expecting a flowering of Palestinian democracy shouldn’t hold their collective breath.

After all, it is the Palestinians who have proved as much as anyone that there is more to democracy than holding an election. Palestinian Authority elections in the past never meant much since the candidates — and the results — were controlled by the ruling Fatah Party. But when Hamas, a terrorist group that is just as anti-democratic and even more violent than Fatah, contested the 2006 parliamentary ballot, the result was a Hamas victory. For the next year, the two sides co-existed uneasily until Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup. The reaction of Hamas to the PA’s announcement yesterday was a declaration that such a vote was illegitimate, since the PA government has been holding onto power for years after Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term expired. They’re right about that, but the PA’s rule in the West Bank is no more illegitimate than that of Hamas in Gaza.

It is anybody’s guess as to which of these two groups of terrorists is more popular in the West Bank, but the idea that any race that pitted them against each other would be in any way democratic is a joke.

But whatever the outcome of such a vote (assuming one ever happens), a push for more voting is not what is needed if the long-term goal is the creation of a democratic and peaceful Palestinian Arab government. As hard as it will be to create space for genuine democrats in Egypt between the military on the one side and the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, there is even less room for a Facebook/Twitter revolution among the Palestinians. Palestinian political culture remains stuck in an endless loop of anti-Israel hate and lust for terrorist violence. The only players that offer something really different, such as the economic development plans put forward by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are, like Fayyad, popular in the West but have no real following of their own. It is only the people with the guns who count in Palestinian politics.

Both the United States and Israel ought to encourage and, where possible, support the creation of democratic institutions in Palestinian society so as to lay the groundwork for a theoretical sea change in which peace could become possible. But yet another Palestinian election contested by terrorist gunmen and their fronts won’t bring them any closer to democracy.

Hard on the heels of the fall of Egypt’s Mubarak, another Arab authoritarian is trying to pretend to be a democratic leader. The Palestinian Authority announced on Saturday that it planned to hold presidential and parliamentary elections by September. That sounds nice, but those expecting a flowering of Palestinian democracy shouldn’t hold their collective breath.

After all, it is the Palestinians who have proved as much as anyone that there is more to democracy than holding an election. Palestinian Authority elections in the past never meant much since the candidates — and the results — were controlled by the ruling Fatah Party. But when Hamas, a terrorist group that is just as anti-democratic and even more violent than Fatah, contested the 2006 parliamentary ballot, the result was a Hamas victory. For the next year, the two sides co-existed uneasily until Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup. The reaction of Hamas to the PA’s announcement yesterday was a declaration that such a vote was illegitimate, since the PA government has been holding onto power for years after Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term expired. They’re right about that, but the PA’s rule in the West Bank is no more illegitimate than that of Hamas in Gaza.

It is anybody’s guess as to which of these two groups of terrorists is more popular in the West Bank, but the idea that any race that pitted them against each other would be in any way democratic is a joke.

But whatever the outcome of such a vote (assuming one ever happens), a push for more voting is not what is needed if the long-term goal is the creation of a democratic and peaceful Palestinian Arab government. As hard as it will be to create space for genuine democrats in Egypt between the military on the one side and the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, there is even less room for a Facebook/Twitter revolution among the Palestinians. Palestinian political culture remains stuck in an endless loop of anti-Israel hate and lust for terrorist violence. The only players that offer something really different, such as the economic development plans put forward by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are, like Fayyad, popular in the West but have no real following of their own. It is only the people with the guns who count in Palestinian politics.

Both the United States and Israel ought to encourage and, where possible, support the creation of democratic institutions in Palestinian society so as to lay the groundwork for a theoretical sea change in which peace could become possible. But yet another Palestinian election contested by terrorist gunmen and their fronts won’t bring them any closer to democracy.

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