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Deputy assistant to the President claims Hamas victory not a failure of democracy

Reader comment on item: [The Hamas Electoral Victory:] Democracy's Bitter Fruit

Submitted by Ben van de Polder (United States), Feb 1, 2006 at 22:06

This interesting piece by Peter H. Wehner argues that the Hamas victory does not indicate a failure of democracy, and that the pursuit of stability by turning a blind eye to tyranny was more detrimental to U.S. interests.

According to Source Watch Peter H. Wehner is:
(The) Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives, "runs the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives (or the Office of Strategery, as it is known inside the building after a 'Saturday Night Live' skit spoofing the president's mangling of the English language).." http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Peter_H._Wehner

He is also Karl Rove's deputy in the White House.



From: Wehner, Peter H.
To: undisclosed-recipients:

Subject: The Freedom Agenda in the aftermath of the Hamas victory
Sent: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 3:19 PM
Some critics of the President's Freedom Agenda argue that the recent Hamas victory discredits the Bush Administration's efforts. The core of their argument is that free elections in the Arab world will lead to the victory of radical movements and that we will be worse off after elections than we were before them. Democracies only work when certain conditions and habits are in place, they say -- and without those things, free elections end up harming rather than helping U.S. interests.

I had several thoughts in response to this line of argument.

1. It is not as if Hamas was replacing the Palestinian version of the Federalist Party. Hamas defeated Fatah -- which under Yasir Arafat was a deeply corrupt and brutal regime. Mr. Arafat himself is one of the fathers of the modern terrorist movement. Mahmoud Abbas was an improvement over Arafat -- but Mr. Abbas was unable to fundamentally reform Fatah. What appears to have happened is that the Palestinian people, after decades under its rule, voted in large numbers against Fatah because of its legacy of corruption, despotism, war, incompetent rule, and support for terrorism. The Palestinians wanted an alternative -- and Hamas was the only major choice available to them.

2. It is not a state secret that Hamas believes in the destruction of the state of Israel. This is not something you find only in the fine print of the Hamas platform -- and it would be wrong to pretend that the Palestinian people were unaware of what Hamas stands for. On the other hand, it is worth noting that those who actually followed this election report that Hamas did campaign heavily on an anti-corruption, providing better services platform. Indeed, the election banner for Hamas was "Change and Reform."

3. We will see what effect, if any, governing will have on Hamas. But here is what we know right now: before the election, Hamas had a lot of influence and was under no significant international pressure to reform its ways. Today Hamas has more influence than it did -- and it is now, for the first time, facing a great deal of pressure from other nations to reform its ways.

When Hamas was out of the government, the international community's offers of conditional aid based on the Palestinian Authority's behavior had little constraining effect on Hamas. Now conditionality is a lever that touches Hamas directly. Perhaps the worst situation of all would have been for Hamas to have influence but not have any responsibility for governing the Palestinian people. Now it does -- and like other governments, it will be held accountable for the choices it makes.

4. The sign that a nation is truly democratic isn't the first election -- it's the elections that follow, and the transfer of power from one party to another. Assume for the sake of the argument that the Palestinian elections turn out to be "one man, one vote, one time." Then we will know that we have a faux democracy -- and we will be back to where we began, with a despotic regime in control of the Palestinian territory. That isn't optimal by any means -- but it isn't as if Hamas didn't exist prior to the election or that it's replacing an enlightened and progressive liberal regime.

It's worth noting, too, that several radical Islamic governments (in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sudan, to name just a few) did not come to power through the ballot box. And it's not as if the Middle East, without democracy, is a region characterized by tranquility, peace, and harmony. Regimes like Iran, Syria, and Iraq under Saddam give lie to that notion.

5. The win for Hamas is the result of having been ruled by a despotic regime for decades. It underscores the pernicious effects of turning a blind eye toward, or giving tacit support for, despotism and corrupt regimes in the name of "stability." That kind of "stability" led to the September 11th attacks -- and it was long past time that we deal with the virus that gave rise to suicide bombings and a culture of death.

6. The transition to democracy tends to be most difficult at the outset, when a nation is transitioning away from an authoritarian or totalitarian regime. The scholar Josh Muravchik has pointed out that the Communists nearly won power in free elections in Portugal in 1974 -- and in liberated Europe, in the aftermath of World War II, Communism had an appeal and made real gains in a number of Western European nations. But as alternatives to Communism began to organize, the appeal of the Communists receded.

7. Perfection cannot be the price of support for democracy -- and the fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933; should that election have undermined democracy as an idea, or made the United States less of a champion of freedom in the aftermath of World War II?

The fact is that freedom has a remarkable historical track record -- including in regions of the world that were once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes time, patience, commitment and will to see it through to success. To declare democracy in the broader Middle East as dead before it is barely born is both unmerited and unwise. We are present at the creation of something remarkable -- and something that will not be without its challenges and hardships. The key is to wisely deal with these matters as they arise, which is precisely what the United States government is doing in the case of Hamas. Nor should we forget the progress that we have already seen, in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and elsewhere.

Perhaps the best testimony to how dangerous democracy is to the aims of al Qaeda and other terrorists is the energy and ruthlessness with which Zarqawi and the others are trying to defeat freedom in Iraq. The status quo in the Middle East gave us bin Ladenism; that is what we are attempting to undo.

8. It would of course be better and easier if a vibrant democratic culture existed in nations before elections were held. But the reality is that the habits of freedom are often desperately weak in authoritarian or totalitarian societies. What elections can do is pry things open and begin the process toward not just elections but the institutions of democracy. Elections are vital and can themselves foster certain civic habits -- but they are only the beginning. Raising up a democracy requires the rule of law, respect for individual liberties, protection of the rights of minorities, and strong, accountable institutions that last longer than a single vote. It's also worth emphasizing what the President has said countless times: Democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens. What liberty in the Middle East will ultimately require is the emergence of responsible Islamic parties.

9. It's still not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. Is their argument that we would be significantly better off with the undemocratic corruption of Arafat than where we are now? Do they believe that Iraq -- which in the aftermath of three successful elections is busily putting together a government comprised of Kurds, Shia and Sunnis, and whose leadership is fighting terrorism instead of supporting it -- was better under Saddam Hussein than it is now? Do they believe that it was better to have the Taliban in control of Afghanistan rather than Hamid Karzai? Do they believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies --repression which helped give rise to the anger, resentments, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

10. In the past, Western nations were willing to make a bargain – to tolerate oppression for the sake of "stability." But this bargain did not bring stability or safety; it merely bought time while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold. And on a clear morning in September 2001, in the heart of New York City, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., and in a rural field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, that ideology of violence struck the United States with deadly fury.

We are witnessing the challenges and problems that accompany epic transitions. There will be others. But there is no other way to fundamentally change, and improve, the Arab Middle East. The people of that region have suffered under tyranny and been raised on hatreds for generation upon generation. Democracy and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world -- and because the work is difficult doesn't mean it can be ignored. The cycle eventually has to be broken -- and so there is urgency to our task. The process of democratic reform has begun -- and now would be precisely the wrong time to lose our will and turn our back on the Freedom Agenda. It would be a moral and geopolitical disaster -- and this President will persist in his efforts to shape a more hopeful world. Even among his critics, I rather doubt there is much question about that.
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