Who Says Things Are Going Awry?
by Leon Hadar
I was watching
US President George W Bush during a live televised press conference
as he was trying to give his interpretation of the victory of the
radical Hamas movement in the Palestinian elections. And I was feeling
kind of embarrassed for my president as he was making an effort
to communicate to the world the "talking points" his spinners
had provided him.
To be honest,
I almost felt like hiding under my bed as Bush in a series of incoherent
statements was attempting to turn another major US foreign policy
disaster that has brought into power anti-American forces in Palestine
into a showcase in "spreading democracy."
Here was the
highlight in the president's remarks: "And so the elections
should open the eyes of the old guard there in the Palestinian territories.
I like the competition of ideas. I like people who have to go out
and say, 'vote for me, and here's what I'm going to do.' There's
something healthy about a system that does that. And so the elections
yesterday were very interesting."
Now let's see.
Is that the "old guard" that included Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement to which the Bush administration,
according to the Washington Post, had provided US$2 million so as
to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on
the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party was facing
a serious challenge from the radical Hamas?
So should Americans
be satisfied that the "old guard" they supported lost
the election? Competition of ideas? Well, the "ideas"
represented by Hamas include in addition to the destruction of Israel
also proposals that could erode the rights of women and non-Christians.
is so "healthy" and so "interesting" in a process
that could lead to final collapse of the little that remains of
the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and that could hurt US interests
and certainly won't promote Western liberal values in the region?
to recall that both Israeli and Palestinian officials frantically
lobbied the Bush administration in the weeks leading to the election
for the postponement of the parliamentary vote in the West Bank
and Gaza, noting that polls pointed to the rising power of Hamas.
Why not wait
a few months and try to improve the economic conditions in the territories
and perhaps restart the peace process before holding the election?
Rice, America's top cheerleader for the Democracy Crusade in the
Middle East, was dismissive of those Middle Eastern naysayers.
free and fair Palestinian Legislative Council elections on Jan 25
represents a key step in the process of building a peaceful, democratic
Palestinian state," Rice said in a Jan 11 statement. "Development
of a Palestinian democracy based on tolerance and liberty is a key
element of the Roadmap," she insisted.
You have to
believe that if you build a democracy, they will come. And on Jan
24 they, the Hamas, did come.
as well as other statements by US officials on the eve of the election
suggest that the Bushies were quite confident that Hamas would not
win the election. The worst-case scenario that they had drawn predicted
a possible increase in power by the Islamists but assumed that Fatah
would form the next Palestinian government.
comments and body language in his post-election press conference
indicate that he and his aides were indeed surprised, if not shocked,
that Hamas had won such an impressive victory, including in a secular
urban center like Ramallah.
reactions by US officials point to the first intelligence failure
– "intelligence," like the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) – of the Bush administration. Recall that during investigations
of the intelligence failures that preceded 9/11 and the Iraq WMD
fiasco, US officials defended themselves by arguing that there was
not enough "human intelligence" or "humnit"
on Al Qaeda and Iraq.
You know, it
was so difficult to penetrate those tribal areas in Afghanistan
and Pakistan or to get into Saddam's "inner circle." But
what about the West Bank, Gaza and Israel? We are talking here about
the most "penetrated" piece of land on this earth.
media organizations, NGOs, diplomatic services, businessmen, religious
institutions, and, yes, spooks roam the Holy Land where an American
passport and US dollars can buy you almost anything.
In fact, it's
not a secret that some of the top Palestinian officials were receiving
stipends from the CIA, not to mention the fact that some of the
research institutes, polling companies and other outlets in the
Palestinian territories were getting funding from the United States
and the European Union.
working for the US intelligence services could settle in the West
Bank and Gaza, where the population is multilingual and where everyone
likes to talk with foreigners.
So what exactly
was the problem? Why couldn't the Americans figure out the electoral
trends among the Palestinians and reach the conclusion that Fatah
was finished and that Hamas was going to win? Perhaps another Congressional
investigation committee will figure that out and recommend the creation
of a new federal agency that would be able to get things right in
the next Palestinian election.
"intelligence" failure is even more serious and has to
do with the wisdom of the Bush administration's crusade to spread
democracy and freedom in the Middle East – by which it means, it
seems, the holding of elections.
The Bush administration
has already celebrated the carrying out of elections in Iraq that
brought to power a coalition of Arab-Shiite clerics with ties to
Iran (where, let's not forget, Iranians elected a radical Islamist
as president), and strengthened the power of Kurdish secessionists
while radicalizing the Arab-Shiite community.
Is that an
outcome that one could expect from a "healthy" and "interesting"
process? At the same time, American pressure on Egypt forced its
government to hold free (well, sort of) elections that strengthened
the power of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, the ideological allies
of Hamas, while the recent election in Lebanon increased the influence
of the anti-American radical Hizbollah.
And now there
is talk about the need to "democratize" and hold elections
To put it differently,
the policy of promoting free elections in the Middle East has been
tested in several places and seemed to have produced results that
run contrary to core US interests and values. Isn't it time to reassess
shouldn't be that Washington shouldn't encourage the spread of democracy
in the Middle East. Instead, US policymakers should consider the
proposition that before holding free elections in these countries,
the US and its allies should help accelerate the process of economic
development and the creation of institutions of civil society, such
as an independent judiciary.
could create the conditions for a "healthy" exchange of
ideas. Indeed, what the Middle East needs are not "interesting"
elections but a viable and intelligent system that will help stir
the region towards long-term structural economic and political reforms.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). Visit
© 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.