Monday, July 12, 2004


In reference to this story in the Washington Post

The armed wing of Yasser Arafat's Fatah political movement has called for a comprehensive campaign against corruption in the Palestinian Authority, recommending that Arafat relinquish some of his powers and that militant groups -- including Islamic organizations -- be granted a formal governing voice, according to a report obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposal presented to senior Palestinian officials by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is the first formal attempt by an armed resistance group to seek a political role in the Palestinian Authority since the current uprising against Israel began nearly four years ago.

Eric Alterman writes

This story demonstrates a central fallacy in the Bush/Neocon argument for war that has never really been addressed by anyone. The fact is, the more democratic Arab nations become, the more anti-American/anti-Israeli/pro-terrorist they become. You have to choose. Arafat is more moderate than the Palestinians who would replace him in a true democratic election and so, too, are most of the corrupt leaders of places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Never been addressed by anyone? Try Fareed Zakaria or Tom Friedman, to name only two of the most prominent. Alterman may not agree with their conclusions, but they've been writing about little else for the past three or so years.

Regarding Alterman's claim that "you have to choose" between Arab democracy and stability, this is essentially the same argument against democracy in the developing world that authoritarian conservatives made for most of the 20th century (how far the liberal have fallen!), and it's as weak and self-serving coming from him as it was coming from them. The reason why Arafat and the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are more moderate than their opposition is not because they've applied democracy, rather it's because they've jealously and systematically used government power to undercut, frustrate, and even outlaw any credible moderate democratic political alternatives to their continued rule, and in doing do have strengthened the most radical religious-political factions. They can stamp out political opposition, and they mostly have, but they can't destroy the mosques, which is where all opposition has gravitated.

Were elections to be held immediately in those countries, Alterman is right that anti-American anti-Israel pro-Islamist factions would probably do quite well, but this is mostly a result of the anti-democratic nature of those regimes up until now, not because of any genuine attempts to create democracy. That's not to suggest that elections should be held immediately, or that elections in and of themselves equal democracy, only that maintaining the status-quo, "stability" as realists fetishize it, has proved a quite unrealistic strategy for genuine security, at least in the Middle East.

The U.S. spent the latter half of the 20th century propping up authoritarian regimes in the name of stability, taking corrupt regimes at their word that they were slowly but surely reforming, which they were not. It's true that this was done in the broader context of the Cold War, but it's hard to deny that that policy has, in the long run, created greater security problems for the United States. We need to try something different.

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