Archive for April, 2007

[Originally published in The Valley News.]

The spit between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine is now a reality.  For many Americans, Fatah is good because it is secular and Hamas is bad because it is Islamist.

In early 2006, at the insistence of the Bush Administration and against the wishes of both Hamas and Fatah, a free, democratic, Palestine election was held.  Hamas won handily, taking control of the parliament.

Hamas won because Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat which had ruled Palestine since the 1967 war, had become corrupt, wildly inefficient and unresponsive to its people.  In marked contrast, Hamas had developed a strong infrastructure in Palestine.  They established extensive welfare programs and  funded schools, orphanages, and health clinics.  Palestinians voted for Hamas because they represented the only change for the better available to them, not necessarily because they supported Hamas’ violent and bellicose, anti-Israel terrorist policies.

In short, in the process of implementing its one-size-fits-all policy of democratizing the Arabs, the Bush Administration forced an unwanted democratic election on the Palestinians – and its friends lost!  The Israeli, US and European Union response was to immediately hold up hundreds of million dollars designated for Palestine.

This does our image no good anywhere in the World.  On the one hand, the Bush administration talks incessantly about establishing democracy in the Muslim world.  On the other hand, when enabled by a democratic election, the Palestinians voted out the American “friends” (Fatah) and voted in our “enemies” (Hamas).   We responded by stopping our financial and political support of Palestine for 16 months, or until lour “friends” took over the West Bank again.  We look totally hypocritical and cynical.

Despite presidential rhetoric, America will continue to support unelected, undemocratic governments like those in Egypt and most of the rest of the Arab world.  This administration will push for a democratic process only where they think it would work to their advantage.  They will not, however, support a government that is Islamist, even if it is elected under democratic rules spelled out by the United States.  By any objective standard, that’s hypocrisy.

This mess in Palestine reveals almost limitless problems.  The administration is trying to bring democracy to the Middle East.  In the process of doing that they have shown that there are limits to the results they will accept.  What does this say about our relations with Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the countries of the Maghreb.  None of them can be considered democratic.   But those that support the United States would appear to be getting a pass.  Those who do not, like Syria and Iran, do appear to be on our hit list.

If that’s the case, then what are the prospects for an Arab who lives in one of those “friendly” countries and fervently wishes to live in a democratic environment?  Basically, he has no good choices.  America won’t support him because the tyrants who rule over him are America’s “friends”.  Where home-grown Islamist movements exist in abundance, democratic movements do not .  So, basically we have presented him with a Hobson’s choice of living under a secular tyrant (his present life) or an Islamist tyrant (his alternate possibility).

Undemocratic states friendly to the US have a very real strategic problem.  As long as they continue to support us and remain undemocratic, they build resentment among their own people.  How long will their support of American policy protect them from their own internal opposition groups when such support moves them higher and higher on the Jihadists’ hit lists?

Whether you think America is in the Middle East because of oil or Israel, or for any other imaginable reason, our current policy is only creating more and more problems for us.  The Middle East is on the cusp of turmoil.  Iraq is a mess.  Turkey grows more and more apprehensive (and bellicose) about the Iraqi Kurds.  Lebanon seems headed back into civil war.  The Palestine situation is increasingly dangerous.  America becomes daily more warlike about Iran and Syria, where we have no good military options.

American policy is hated for what Muslims see as its support of undemocratic Muslim regimes; the stationing of US troops on holy Muslim soil in Saudi Arabia; our occupation of Iraq and what they see as America’s constantly lopsided support of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.

These are the issues that motivate terrorism.  None of them is being effectively addressed.  As long as our present policies persist, our problems will grow.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Europe, Lebanon and Iran and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.  He lives in Williston.

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