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:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

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

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

The Trouble with Iowa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Queen and I

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Estimated percentage of New Hampshire’s bat population that died in 2010:

65

A horticulturalist in Florida announced a new low-carb potato.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today