Two Great Tragedies

Our Iraqi ambassador is telling the sectarian Shiites who won the recent elections to be not-so-sectarian and not-so-Shiite.
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There are two great tragedies in life: One is not getting what one wants; the other is getting it.

- Oscar Wilde

I want democracy in the Middle East. Oops, I got democracy in the Middle East.

- George W. Bush

Hamas -- a group we classify as a terrorist organization -- is now the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people. And the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is now the democratically elected leaders of the Iraqi people. Enjoy.

Now, the Bush administration says we will not recognize Hamas. Wait, did you want democracy in the Middle East or didn't you? Democracy doesn't mean people elect leaders the US likes; it means they elect people they like.

I know Hamas and Islamic Revolutions make us uncomfortable. But, as my Jamaican ex-girlfriend used to say - that's a sad day for us.

Now, in an irony that knows no bounds, we are telling the democratically elected leaders of Iraq that we don't like their democracy so much either. Our ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad is telling the sectarian Shiites who won the recent elections to be not-so-sectarian and not-so-Shiite.

Didn't we think this through at all? I swear these neo-cons are downright stupid. We thought empowering the people of the Middle East - who hate the United States - would lead to pro-US governments?

Liberace is gay. I didn't see that one coming.

- Austin Powers

The Palestinians elected people who hate Israel. I didn't see that one coming.

- George W. Bush

Saying we won't recognize Hamas is not only grossly hypocritical, it is childish. It's like taking your ball and going home because you didn't like the way a call went against you on the playground.

I wish fervently that Hamas hadn't won, but they did. To paraphrase our Secretary of Defense -- you get the democracies you have, not the ones you wish you had.

I know this silly administration claims not to do nuance, but if they want to graduate on to fourth grade, they better get a nuanced position on these elections real quick.

My suggestion is: recognize but don't fund. We should come out with a statement that we could not disagree with Hamas more but we recognize that they are the elected representatives of the Palestinian people. Since we cherish democracy, we will recognize Hamas and accord them the respect they are owed as the leaders of their people. But we will cut off all funding to the Palestinian territories.

Just because you believe in democracy doesn't mean you have to fund every democratic government in the world. As we learned here at home, elections have consequences. Learning that lesson is also part of democracy.

Hamas claims that it wants to destroy Israel. Other than being nuts, that's counterproductive to every goal the United States has in the area. We might have to recognize Hamas, but we certainly don't have to help them.

I think this would restore some credibility to our position in the region without hurting our aims. As a small side note, this is also what we should be doing in Venezuela - congratulate Hugo Chavez for a clear and decisive victory in fair elections and then spell out the economic consequences of some of his anti-US positions.

When we question the legitimacy of democratically elected governments, we ironically put our own legitimacy in jeopardy. No one can take us seriously if we only recognize the democracies that do our bidding.

Now, the question of Iraq is far more difficult. Ambassador Khalilzad is threatening to take away funding from the Shiite led government because they are too sectarian. He's right. They are committing atrocities against the Sunnis and deepening the sectarian conflict in Iraq. If the Iraqi government blindly supports one sect over another, it will inevitably lead to a civil war.

But he is also wrong. If we cut off funding to the Shiite government in Iraq, we will be in the preposterous situation of training an army we refuse to fund. We will have lost the support of the Shiites. We are already in a war against the Sunnis. We will be stuck in no man's land.

I don't like to just criticize. I prefer to at least attempt offering constructive suggestions (see above). But I have to admit the Bush administration has me stumped on this one. We have put ourselves into such an untenable situation, I am not sure there's any effective answer.

As usual in Iraq, we're screwed if we do and screwed if we don't. We have created this monster -a democratically elected sectarian, fundamentalist Islamic party leaning toward Iran and looking forward to crushing the Sunnis - and we have no idea what to do with this Frankenstein.

And having learned no lessons from any of this, Condoleezza Rice goes to Egypt this week to demand more democracy. Is she kidding? If Egypt became a legitimate democracy today, the Muslim Brotherhood would sweep into power and we would have three new Islamic fundamentalist governments to deal with in the region. It would be the icing on our disaster cake.

I am not arguing against democracy. In the long run, I believe that democracy will bear fruit in the Middle East and will eventually lead to governments that are for peace and against war (although we haven't really gotten to that point here at home either). But we need to make it to the long run first.

In the short run, we should take the foot off the democracy gas pedal and instead focus on initiatives that would lay the groundwork for a Middle East population that would support the goals and values of the United States once they do have democracy. In other words, we should spread our culture before we spread our form of government.

Right now, religious fundamentalists are ascendant in the Middle East (and again, unfortunately, here at home as well). But their position is untenable in the long run. People do not want to be oppressed. They do want the choice to be moral actors. They do want control over their own lives.

We have to have the courage of our convictions. In this case, that means we have to believe that they will choose our way of life eventually. We have to be patient and let them come to this decision on their own without shoving it down their throats.

This administration wanted to be heroes and liberate the Middle East on their watch. Instead, their arrogant and foolish actions have led to chaos and instability in the region. But in the long run, we can salvage all of these things if we go back to doing the right things, nudging people in our direction rather than pushing them away from us. But it requires an administration willing to do nuance and have a modicum of common sense.

Perhaps we are in trouble after all.

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