February 24, 2005


The Downside of Democracy: What if the U.S. doesn't like what the voters like in the Mideast and beyond? (Juan Cole, February 24, 2005, LA Times)

With the emergence of Shiite physician Ibrahim Jafari as the leading candidate for Iraqi prime minister earlier this week, the contradictions of Bush administration policy in the Middle East have become even clearer than they were before.

President Bush says he is committed to democratizing the region, yet he also wants governments to emerge that are friendly to the U.S., benevolent to their own people, secular, capitalist and willing to stand up and fight against anti-American radicals.

But what if democratic elections do not produce such governments? What if the newly elected regimes are friendly to states and groups that Washington considers enemies? What if the spread of democracy through the region empowers elements that don't share American values and goals?

The recent election in Iraq is a case in point. The two major parties in the victorious Shiite alliance are Jafari's party, the Dawa, founded in the late 1950s to work for an Islamic republic, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, the goal of which can be guessed from its name. To be fair, both have backed away from their more radical stances of earlier decades. But both parties — and Jafari himself — were sheltered in Tehran in the 1980s by Washington's archenemy, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and both acknowledge that they want to move Iraq toward Islamic law and values. [...]

Although the Palestinian elections in January were widely viewed as a success — producing a pragmatic prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas — remember that the radical fundamentalist party, Hamas, boycotted those elections. Then, less than three weeks later, local elections were held — and Hamas won decisively in the Gaza Strip, leaving it more influential than before and poised for even bigger wins in next July's legislative elections.

And in recent years, democratization has also put Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament. Serbian nationalists have won seats in Belgrade.

Are such outcomes acceptable to the Bush administration?

Strange that Professor Cole has so little faith in Islam. Nevermind that Hamas and Hezbollah are rapidy transforming into normal political parties as the prospect of power beckons, the Iranians are notoriously pro-American and pro-liberalization, so much so that their government is on borrowed time--opposed even by Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson woirking with the Shah's son--and is terrified of Iraq, whose Shi'ite clerics view Khomeinism as a heresy. Indeed, Shi'ism generally seems compatible, even unusually compatible, with liberal democracy. Mr. Cole seems like one of those Soviet experts of the '80s predicting long life for the Iron Curtain and discerning a hostility to the West where none in fact existed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 24, 2005 10:49 AM

I discern that Juan Cole is hostile to the West. This chump's a crank with a PhD.

Posted by: OldHat at February 24, 2005 11:51 AM

What the pea-brained Professor Cole fails to understand is that once radical groups get elected in a democratic fashion, they are all of a sudden expected to start doing government stuff, like fixing potholes, paving roads, building schools, making sure the trains run on time and feeding the children. They become responsible for their actions to people known as 'voters.' Chanting 'Death to the Great Satan' makes for great protest video but it doesn't keep somebody from robbing someone else's butcher shop or grocery store.

I would suspect the clownish Professor Cole is one of those academic bottom-feeders who sat shiva when the Berlin Wall fell.

Posted by: Bart at February 24, 2005 12:03 PM

Cole is a a well known Communist. He is one of the few non-Islamo-nazis in Mid-East Area Studies, but he hates America more than any of Arabs do. Unfortunately, he is a tenured professor in my old department (History at U Michigan -- M.A. 1970), no money for them. Sigh. Another reason to drain the swamp.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 24, 2005 12:34 PM

Faith in islam - might as well believe in the Tooth Fairy...

Posted by: M. Murcek at February 24, 2005 12:48 PM

If new enemies emerge, we'll just get rid of them too.

Posted by: Bob at February 24, 2005 1:02 PM

I don't think they need your money, Robert. I have a hunch that certain Cole-friendly governments in the Middle East have arranged other ways of funding any possible shortfall at the U of M (and countless other Harvards of the wherever across North America).

Just a hunch mind you.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 24, 2005 5:08 PM