The term “democracy” is often used as a package deal. It combines an issue of form (government officials chosen through open election) with issues of substance (limited government power, a robust civil society, the rule of law, etc) and treats them as a unity. Essentially, “democracy” becomes a substitute for “freedom”.

The problem with this is that the elements of the package don’t necessarily go together. Just because a government was elected doesn’t mean it can’t be repressive. The current government of Iran is an example. The newly-elected government of Palestine is an even better one — and with its election, the Bush administration (along with the remainder of the West) has reaped the reward of its conceptual incoherence. Bush has been pushing the spread of democracy in the Middle East, instead of pushing directly for the substance of a free society. Now we are faced with a state that meshes the form of democracy with the substance of our Islamofascist enemies. If we stick with the “democracy” side of the package, we will wind up subsidizing our foes in their attacks on Western civilization. And if we go with the substance side, we will be (with some justice) criticized for only liking democracy when the outcomes of the elections are to our liking.

This dilemma need not have occurred had we only kept our ideas clear in the first place. But losing battles in the meme war has existential consequences, and this is one.

2 Responses to “Chickens Roosting”
  1. Mithras says:

    Bush has been pushing the spread of democracy in the Middle East, instead of pushing directly for the substance of a free society.

    Talk about incoherent.

    One can have a democracy without a free society, but not a long-lasting free society without those things a democracy affords. Bush’s foreign policy is a catastrophe of the first order, but not because pushing for democracy as instrumental to freedom per se doesn’t make sense. Promoting freedom without democracy is like selling a two-legged stool.

    What never made sense is imagining that democractic reform in the region would have any effect other than electing militant Islamic fundamentalists, since they are who is popular. This is not, say, Eastern Europe, with a strong, mature political culture just waiting to have a foreign yoke removed. The choice all along – whether with respect to the PA, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi or wherever else in the region – has been between corrupt, secularish, tame tinpots like Saddam and Arafat, on one hand, and motivated true believers like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other.

    It was also blindingly obvious that an invasion of an oil-producing nation that posed no real threat to our or the region’s security would provide unlimited fuel for the fundamentalist extremists. Hamas won because Bush invaded Iraq. How could it be otherwise? People in the region think the U.S. is capable of the most nakedly self-interested behavior you can imagine, primarily because we proved it so often. Saddam was a-ok by us so long as he was killing Iranians. Bush holds hands with Saudi rulers who have engineered a society bordering on totalitarian. In such a poisoned atmosphere, Bush may as well have pulled a gun and announced a holdup when he said that we were liberating the people of Iraq. Crafting a better message or sorting our memes is not going to help.

  2. Luke Davis says:

    It was also blindingly obvious that an invasion of an oil-producing nation that posed no real threat to our or the region’s security would provide unlimited fuel for the fundamentalist extremists.

    It does indeed seem obvious that, under the circumstances you outlined, the results could not be otherwise. Unfortunately, it is far from clear that those circumstances actually occurred in the real world. Take, for example, this article ( http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/europe/06/18/russia.warning/index.html ), which questions the claim that Iraq posed no threat to the U.S. Obviously, this was not the reason we were given for the invasion of Iraq, but if this report is true, there would have been no good way to tell us directly what the government knew (which is its own kettle of fish; the point is, let’s attack the administration for things they’re actually guilty of, because there are more than enough of those to go around. There’s no need to make things up, or even to misconstrue events).

    Also, Hamas actually won for a variety of reasons, some of the major ones of which were: Yasser Arafat is dead, and without him, the Fatah party doesn’t have the same strength or unity; the Palestinian people were, reportedly, fed up with rampant corruption in the Fatah-dominated governement; Hamas did their damndest to make it look to the Palestinians like the Israelis withdrew because of Hamas attacks–yes, Hamas held demonstrations immediately after the withdrawal began proclaiming their victory, demonstrated by the retreat of the Israelis; the Palestinian economy is in shambles, due largely to the tight control Israel exercises over it; Hamas campaigned well, capitalizing on all of these factors.

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