[N.B.: This article ran along with and replies to USA Today's house editorial, "Ballot box gains for Hamas pose dilemma for U.S., allies," which argues in favor of prodding Hamas "to make its new image more than cosmetic." For a complementary weblog discussion of the Palestinian elections, see "Thoughts on Hamas' Ascendance."]
As Hamas, the Islamist terror group, surges in the polls with a prospect of joining the Palestinian Authority or even running it, governments worldwide must decide on their responses.
An increasing number of voices are calling for Hamas to be recognized, arguing that the imperatives of governance would tame it, ending its arch-murderous vocation (it has killed around 600 Israelis) and turning it into a responsible citizen. Even President Bush made this argument in early 2005: "There's a positive effect when you run for office. Maybe some will run for office and say, ‘Vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America.' ... I don't think so. I think people who generally run for office say, ‘Vote for me, I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes, or making sure you got bread on the table.'"
The historical record, however, refutes this "pothole theory of democracy." Mussolini made the trains run, Hitler built autobahns, Stalin cleared the snow and Castro reduced infant mortality — without any of these totalitarians giving up their ideological zeal nor their grandiose ambitions. Likewise, Islamists in Afghanistan, Iran, and Sudan have governed without becoming tamed. If proof is needed, note the Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons amid an apocalyptic fervor.
Hamas might have hired a spin doctor to improve its image in the West, but its leadership candidly maintains it has no intention of changing. Responding to a question on whether Bush is correct that U.S. engagement with Hamas would moderate the terror group, Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas founder, laughed and declared that this tactic "will not succeed." In recent days, Zahar has publicly reiterated that Hamas still intends to destroy Israel.
Fortunately, U.S. policy remains steadfast: "We haven't dealt with Hamas, and we won't deal with Hamas members who are elected," says U.S. embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle in Israel. That is a good start; ideally, there should be no dealings at all with a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas in its leadership.
It was a mistake to permit Hamas to compete in elections. Like al-Qaeda, Hamas should be destroyed, not legitimated, much less courted.