Frankly, I do admire Romney’s consistency, it shows professionalism – some candidates don’t even know what talking points their campaigns communicate. However, I’d like to hear Romney’s view on the fact that democratic elections in the Middle East in the past few years have quite legally, and under US-sanctioned balloting, increased the political clout of Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine), and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt). ~George Ajjan
This was a point I didn’t get to in the post where I united two of my favourite hobbyhorses (bashing Romney, mocking people who talk about Islamofascism). Now I can add two more of my preoccupations to the mix: questioning the wisdom of democratisation in the Near East and rejecting optimism.
There are three consistent positions one can take on the question of democratisation:
1) Democratisation is good for the peoples of the Near East and is naturally bound to create a more pro-Western, pro-American, pro-Israel Near East (see Turkey for why this one is wrong).
2) Democratisation is probably bad for American and Israeli interests, but must be pursued for the long-term development, security and sanity of the region. See interwar Europe, Latin America at almost any time in the last 200 years or modern Africa as counter-examples of the rather terrible results when fragile developing democracies are created in inhospitable times and climes, whether they are being established in badly tribally, ethnically or religiously-divided nations or in nations with insufficient experience with the norms and practices of democratic governance.
3) Democratisation is an inherently destabilising and all-around bad idea that is both inappropriate to the nations of the Near East now and for the foreseeable future and fundamentally dangerous to international security. In this view, the “global democratic revolution” may even be potentially far more dangerous to the peace of the world than global communism.
Naturally, Republican elites, including Romney, have generally endorsed #1 and have been gradually moving towards #2 as they have begun to count the costs and have been forced to acknowledge that nothing pro-American is emerging in the democratic or quasi-democratic regimes arising in the region. Those Republicans who once endorsed #1 and have since thrown up their hands in despair do not usually move over to #3, but very frequently retain their powerful faith in democracy as an engine of peace, freedom and development (looking over the hideous history of the most democratic century in history, I really have no idea why they think this). They are incapable of doubting the virtues of democracy and soon adopt a fourth position, which might be called the Ralph Peters view or the “damn ingrates” position: democratisation in the Near East was a fine and noble idea, and we are fine and noble people for trying to implement it, but those stupid Arabs just couldn’t get their act together, so let’s just kill as many as we can. This is sometimes hard to distinguish from the advocates of the #1 position, since the #1 folks also tend to be very vocal about killing as many Arabs as possible (see Ledeen and “crappy little country”-against-wall-throwing approach to foreign policy or Rice and “birth pangs of a new Middle East”). It is amazing to watch the transformation of some of these unbounded optimists, who were not long ago preaching the universality of human dignity, into the most cynically monstrous of amoralists, who now believe that the Iraqis failed us, because they weren’t able to pick up on the fly in a war zone something that takes hundreds of years to nurture, cultivate and develop. This is a powerful confirmation of the potential evils of optimism: no one is more savage and cruel than an optimist disappointed by the people he was going to save through his naive idealism.
Coming back to Romney, it is intriguing that he at once takes the far-out confrontational posture of a “Gathering Storm” Santorum vis-a-vis Iran, while at the same time listing the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the general jihadi foe that must be fought. That ends up putting Romney in the odd position of defending the Syrian government as a “moderate Muslim government” as he breathes in, and then implicitly damning them by targeting Hizbullah as another part of the jihadi foe as he breathes out. Even though the Syrians oppose one part of the ”worldwide jihadist effort” in repressing the Brotherhood, we will no doubt be told that they are also part of the “worldwide jihadist effort” because they lend support to Hizbullah, which tends to show just how useless and unwise this sort of rhetoric about a “worldwide jihadist effort” really is. It is safe to say that anyone who thinks that there is a “worldwide jihadist effort” that includes both the Brotherhood and Hizbullah working for the same goals is playing directly into the hands of those, such as al Qaeda, who want nothing more than to convince as many Sunnis as possible that Washington is intent on indiscriminate war against Muslims everywhere. Nothing better aids jihadi propaganda that presents them as champions of an Islam besieged all over the world than clumsy, ham-fisted descriptions of a “worldwide jihadist effort” that validates the jihadis’ own description of the nature of the war. Romney wants us to play the jihadis’ game, and in this he is hardly alone on the right–shouldn’t someone be asking why Romney wants to fight the war on the enemy’s terms?
Rather than exploiting the cleavages that exist between different kinds of Muslims and different groups of jihadis, as a savvy George Kennan-like foreign policy thinker might propose, the insane plan of leading Republican candidates and the party leadership is to keep reinforcing the image of a monolithic, unified “worldwide jihadist effort.” The net result of this thinking will be that America will have that many more implacable enemies to fight and we will have missed that many more opportunities to turn jihadi against jihadi and use natural Baathist hostility to the same to our advantage. Rather than playing on national and sectarian divisions and exploiting opposition between relatively secular Muslims and their religious counterparts, talk of a “worldwide jihadist effort” helps to push these groups into collaboration where none existed before. Of course, having created this collaboration, it will then be taken as proof by these same clever people that these groups were “inevitably” going to ally with one another because of their fundamental agreement with one another.