Unexpected. Terrible. Inevitable. Everyone has a particular take on
the dramatic Palestinian election victory of Hamas.
Right-wing cynics of American support for Middle East democracy say
that we got our just desserts for our naive idealism. How foolish to
ever believe that such tribal people might vote themselves a
"Be careful what you wish for," smug leftists chime in. But they
harp that the Bush administration is hypocritical in lamenting the
results. After all, how can the United States advocate democracy and
then back away when it doesn't get pro-Americans?
Others hedge that the Hamas victory hardly means consensual
government as we know it given the Palestinians' lack of an
independent judiciary, free speech or habeas corpus.
There is even less consensus about the future. Pessimists point to
the German elections of 1932 and 1933, which mainstreamed the Nazis
and allowed them to seize power and destroy the very democratic
machinery that had given them their legitimacy. Next, will the
Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Egypt and end reform ("one
election, one time"), once we force the Mubarak dynasty to accept
free and unfettered voting?
The more optimistic always counter with the example of Nelson
Mandela's once-outlawed African National Congress. Those former
militants evolved beyond terrorist attacks on the white apartheid
government to become the ruling government of South Africa.
Israelis, too, are divided. Liberals there assume that Hamas must
turn moderate, once it is forced to clean sewers and fix electrical
cables rather than shoot guns off in the street when it doesn't get
Conservatives there are oddly just as serene, but make a different
argument: Now there will be no phony talk about a "militant" wing of
Hamas or a duplicitous Palestinian Authority complaining that it
can't control renegade suicide bombers. No, as legitimate
representatives of the Palestinian people, Hamas can at last lead
their brave jihdadists in an open war against the vilified Jews. As
in 1967 or 1973, let the battlefield adjudicate their warriors'
Yet there is one constant to all the bickering over the Hamas
victory: Democracy, even in the violent Middle East, brings a
certain clarity, and with it, at last, honesty.
Hamas can either renounce its charter principles or follow
them by quite openly taxing its people to raise money for more
suicide bombing brigades. As an Islamic state, it can craft sharia
law and an open alliance with a similarly theocratic Iran, enjoying
both the short-term benefits and global downside of
such an Islamic axis. Nor do such anti-Western radicals need to
accept hundreds of millions of dollars in infidel American and
Here in the United States, we should express relief rather than
anxiety. None can accuse America of propping up right-wing puppets
that do our bidding. We not only supported the elections, but also
subsidized them. So now, with perfect consistency, we can accept
Hamas' victory, but keep our money and distance from such creepy
What we are witnessing are the aftershocks of the removal of Saddam
Hussein and the messy democratization of the Middle East. These
ensuing tremors have left pro-American autocrats in the Gulf and
Egypt and hostile dictators in Syria, Libya and Iran trembling.
The upheaval is as dangerous and unpredictable as it is honest,
since at last America has a consistent Middle East policy: We will
encourage free and open elections, but need not always be friends of
the subsequently elected governments.
We are in a new age in which the failed realist policy of
bankrolling autocrats who pumped oil and kept away communists has
run its course. The old slurs about American imperialism and
CIA-engineered coups can now be put to rest. The Middle East will
need to get a life and move beyond the stale half-century-old
blame-America rhetoric that we propped up some corrupt Saudi royal
in the 1940s or ruined an Iranian reform in the 1950s and
thus forever set them back.
In the meantime, the U.S. must itself adapt to the new honesty, as
we encourage the democratization of the Middle East and, for the
foreseeable future, the likely emergence of grassroots anti-Western
Islamic governments. First, we must pull our fingers out of the
crumbling dikes of autocracy and cease giving any money to the
corrupt status quo (such as the Mubarak dynasty). Such funds only
encourage the sense of victimhood on the part of rival Islamists and
give them anti-American ammunition in the elections to come.
Second, we must turn to more oil drilling at home, energy
conservation, nuclear power, and, most importantly for our
transportation needs, methanol and ethanol production. Only then can
we cease sending billions of petrodollars to the Middle East that
warp its economy, subsidize otherwise failed ideologies and promise
that the next arms race will turn nuclear. So by all means, let them
all vote and elect whomever they want and let a confident
United States hope for the best and prepare for the worst.