Washington Babylon — September 5, 2007, 9:16 am

Something Other Than Democracy (Updated)

Update: Several readers have emailed to say that I was unkind to Kessler, and that his book is more nuanced in its discussion of Hamas and Hezbollah than what ran in the section published in the Post. So, some apologies to Kessler. However, I’d still say that the general media treatment of those groups is simplistic nonsense. And Rice’s views of them surely are.

If you need evidence that the foreign policy elite, as well as the media, is utterly clueless about realities in the Middle East, look no further than Glenn Kessler’s front-page article in Monday’s Washington Post. The story, adapted from Kessler’s new book, “The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy,” contains this astonishing passage:

When Rice met with Saudi journalists in 2005, after delivering a speech in Cairo promoting Middle East democracy, she expressed hope that extremist parties wouldn’t do well because voters would care less about jihad than about the practical aspects of governing. “I think there’s at least a very, very good chance that the extremists would not do very well,” she said. Her prediction proved wrong. In the two most liberal societies in the Middle East–the Palestinian territories and Lebanon–militia groups were voted into power: Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This is just the sort of bone-headed analysis that underpins much of America’s Middle East policy, which helps explains why our efforts continue to fail in the region.

First, there’s the simplistic, American-centric definition of Hamas and Hezbollah as “militia groups.” That view, espoused by Rice and Kessler, leads to the ridiculous idea that those who backed Hamas and Hezbollah were casting their ballots for “jihad.” Both groups clearly have radical elements, but neither promised during their respective electoral campaigns to nuke Washington (or Tel Aviv for that matter) and restore the caliphate. Hamas and Hezbollah function as political parties, religious movements, and social service providers. They deliver health care, education, clean water, and other services to poor people. Their opponents, for the most part, don’t. In other words, they won precisely because voters cared less about jihad than they did about “the practical aspects of government.”

Spread democracy to the Middle East? We don’t even know what it looks like.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Post
A Band of Her Own·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What in the poem is an unappealing display becomes, with the addition of the soul-influenced, flute-inflected background, funny, almost self-consciously so."
Photograph by AP/Bill Chaplis
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows

Jobs created by every billion dollars of U.S. government defense spending:

21,000

Artists tend to have twice as many sexual partners as noncreative people.

Swiss retailer Migros cut off ties with a collectible-creamer company following the distribution of 2,000 creamers whose lids bore images of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. “You cannot put Pol Pot or a terrorist on a milk creamer,” said a Migros spokesman.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today