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.

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