Thursday, March 03, 2005

Are elections proof of President Bush's vision?

On January 28th, FrontPage Magazine published two articles by my friend Lawrence Auster, in a debate between Mr. Auster and Daniel Pipes on the proper approach to Islamist violence. In the articles, Auster defines the Civilizationist school of thought as the belief that Islam or Muslim Civilization is the true threat, and that Islamism is simply a modern ideology built upon the inherently expansionist and violent faith. The term "civilizationist", which I helped coin during a series of emails, pays homage to the framework set forth by Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations.

Given the election of a Constitutional Assembly in Iraq, the partial election of regional councils in Saudi Arabia, the election in the Palestinian Authority, the announcement of elections in Egypt, and the recent upheavals in Lebanon, now may seem like the wrong time to call Islam an enemy and our approach shortsighted. However, now is the exact time when we should look at the ideological constructs framing our foreign policy.

The mere existence of a single election does not make a country Democratic. Since the end of World War I, there have been dozens of elections that were made moot by the actions of the local military, the government or outside powers. Stalin famously noted that it does not matter who votes in an election, only who counts the votes. Given the stolen election in Washington State, where massive voter fraud and inconsistent counting standards ensured a Democrat victory, I have little confidence in the effectiveness of elections in the Middle East despite US oversight.

Moreover, properly administered elections guarantee nothing. One need not read Plato, Polybius, Cicero, Burke, or even Federalist 13, to understand this. The French Republic guaranteed liberty, but the revolution lead to the Reign of Terror and the dictatorship of Napoleon. This was not a mere issue of form of the government. The Latin American Republics, created in the Bolivarian revolutions, had constitutions closely modeled after our own. However, each either became a dictatorship or was conquered within a generation. Democracy is merely rule of the majority. Even constitutional structures meant to preserve liberty become meaningless without the support of the governing class and electorate. Our liberty has been maintained because of our political traditions and culture, which have been built over 2000 years.

The march of liberty, which culminated with the fall of the Soviet Union, is being reversed because of the failures of liberalism in some countries. Russia and Venezuela both elected presidents who have turned back political and economic freedoms.

In the case of Russia the “democratic” and “capitalist” governments lacked a commitment to rule of law, compromise, a transparent economy, and full property rights. The inevitable market failures, corruption, and social disruptions lead to the people turning their backs on Western democracy and look towards the traditional solution of a strong leader.

Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains a nominally free market, although major sectors such as energy are being effectively re-nationalized, while centralizing political power and taking control of the media. Putin's Russia hails Stalin and Beria as heros, not mass murderers. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who had previously tried to overthrow the government, now runs it with an iron grip modeled after Castro. Both countries have foreign policies at least partially hostile to the US.

Are we to believe that Iraq will turn out better? Assuming that the country does not break-up in a civil war between Arab Shiites, Kurds and other Sunnis, some form of Sharia will be part of the Iraqi Constitution. The influence of Iran on the Iraqi Shiites, especially if it is allowed to become a nuclear power, cannot be discounted. All of the contenders for Iraqi leadership had or have close ties to Iran. At best, an Iraqi government is likely to thank the US for liberation and then ask us to leave.

The populations of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt would vote in anti-American Islamists if given a chance. Even in Turkey, the "moderate" Islamist government is a continuing hindrance to the US, even as it downplays its Muslim roots in the hope that Turkey will be allowed to join Europe. The Palestinians elected a "moderate" Holocaust denier as president of their non-State and recent polling indicates widespread support for an Islamist government and continued armed conflict with Israel. The only bright spot is Lebanon, which all to easily can be pushed back into civil war by Syria and Iran. Ironically, the only country whose population seems friendly to the US is Iran. There, the Mullahs are being abetted by Russia and Europe in gaining nuclear weapons. Should they do so, the reformist claims that Islamists cannot modernize the country will be undermined. Worse, Ayatollah Khamanei will have free reign to suppress internal dissension, even as he threatens the entire region and the world’s oil supply.

My pessimistic outlook should not be taken as support for Buchananite isolationism or appeasement promoted by the left and media darlings like Michael Scheurer and Zbignew Berzinski. Rather, we must treat Islam like we did communism. We must contain it and roll it back, with the hope of eventual collapse of reform.