Killing the democracy brand

As I’ve noted before, the U.S. political efforts in the Middle East have all but destroyed the very idea of democracy for much of the developing world, in addition to, of course, helping nascent democracies tumble headlong into anarchy. Remember the Arab Spring? Remember how elections in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories were supposed to bring peace, prosperity, and ponies to the region? It turns out that democracy requires more than voting, and certainly more than voting coupled with illiberal internal policies and external meddling.

Democracy requires institutions, infrastructure, security, and other structural factors. Shamefully, the U.S. has helped undermine many of these factors in the very places we held up as examples not so long ago. The disaster in Gaza is just the latest example.

Juan Cole gets right to the point, as usual:

The events of the past few days have driven a nail into the coffin of Bush’s “democratization” program for the “Greater Middle East.” The Haniyah Hamas government had come to power in free and fair elections, but was immediately boycotted, starved of resources, and actually often simply kidnapped by the Israelis; and is now being put out of office in a kind of coup. The people of the Arab world are not blind or stupid. If this is what the “Greater Middle East” looks like, it will too closely resemble, for their taste, the colonial 19th century, When Europeans dictated government to Middle Easterners.

I’m extremely skeptical of the idea that if the U.S. and Israel prop up Abbas and Fatah in the West Bank the Palestinians will see how much better life is under Fatah than Hamas; Fatah has basically controlled the territories for years and the population wasn’t very happy, so for the U.S. to belatedly endorse Fatah and support it will reek of colonialism. No puppet government will have legitimacy, and Hamas can claim — rightly — that they were never given the ability to govern. That way Hamas gets to keep power in Gaza, maintain its popularity as fighters against Palestinian oppression, and avoid any actual responsibility for governance. Not exactly a recipe for diminishing their power or popularity.

This is also bad for Israel down the road:

What has happened is not good for Israel in the medium to long term, since I suspect it signals the end of the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. And, if you don’t have a two-state solution, ultimately the likelihood is that Israel will be stuck with the Palestinians as citizens.

I certainly hope it does not mean the end of two-state viability, and things can change quickly in this situation. But the indicators are bad, and unlikely to be improved by the current administration.

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