Sunday, May 1, 2011

democracies do what they want

One of the petty hypocrisies involved in much American support for the Arab uprisings is that this support is based on the idea that Arab democracy is going to give Americans what they want. You'll find this attitude embedded in any argument that insists we should support internal rebellions because of all the good policies and benevolent changes that will occur in the new regime. People never seem quite to realize that support for the edifice of democracy that is conditional on support for the policies of that democracy is a sham. This is why, for as much as Afghanistan and Iraq reveal about the fundamental character of America, the most important foreign policy evolution of the Bush era was the election of Hamas in Palestine, and the requisite abandonment of democracy there by this country's policy apparatus.

Now, then, we're starting to get the kind of policy from Egypt that should start to throw people's real convictions into relief:
Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces General Sami Anan warned Israel against interfering with Egypt's plan to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis, saying it was not a matter of Israel's concern, Army Radio reported on Saturday.... An Israeli official on Friday told The Wall Street Journal that Israel was troubled by the recent developments in Egypt saying they could affect Israel's national security at a strategic level.
National securitah, of course, being the reason for Israel to fear an opening of the border, and not their explicit aim to keep Gaza and its people in a state of permanent economic ruin.

For me, this is a heartening development, and if even some of the narratives of the Arab Spring are true, this kind of pressure is inevitable. Israel has been, for over forty years, perpetuating one of the great humanitarian and democratic crises in the world; amid all of this talk of the democratization of the Arab world, precious little has pointed out that the United States is the major (and moving towards sole) underwriter of an Israeli regime that keeps millions of Palestinian Arabs in a state of permanent dispossession. If the greater Middle East is indeed being swept up in a new spirit of freedom, Israel will find its position more and more uncomfortable. I pray that this new geopolitical situation in the Middle East never results in military action against Israel. But if they are truly surrounded by a newly empowered and engaged Arab people, Israel will come to find their position untenable, as well they should. Because the status quo for the Palestinian people is indefensible.

Meanwhile, those who so loudly cheer the intervention in Libya, and who push for the same in Syria, are going to have to come to terms with the fact that free people don't always do what you want them to do. I support the Libya resistance against the Qaddafi regime, although my support (crazily enough) doesn't mean I abandon the bedrock democratic principles of non-interference. But I don't pretend that the rebels are "good guys," that they will give me what I want, or that the spirit of criticism of all governments will be extinguished when they take power. The question is how far Egypt or any other can go away from American desires before people really consider the reality of true self-determination. How frosty can things get with Israel? Could Egypt transition to, say, a socialist government without western supporters of the Arab Spring jumping ship? Could a theoretical Saudi Arabian uprising be permitted to severely restrict the flow of oil to America and its allies? Could a new Arab democracy increase its government's interoperability with Islamic fundamentalism (as the Iranian revolutionaries did) and still earn the praise of Western intellectuals?

All of these aren't merely questions that you can ask about the difference between the morally preferable process of democracy and the morally uncertain outcomes of democracy. These are questions you have to ask, when your country is killing people in the name of other people's freedom.


Zach said...

I'd only add that Hezbollah winning control in Lebanon coupled with the Hamas victory really underscored the point that democracies do what they want. In both situations the Bush foreign policy team pushed for elections and didn't get the result it expected.

North said...

I don't disagree with this though it does leave out other elements. Hamas, for instance, is likely none to thrilled about the trouble besetting their patrons in Syria. So the Arab spring, if it proceeds, will put pressure on both sides of the table to come to some sort of agreement.
God knows I hope it'll help reverse or at least slow the paranoid rightward stampede that has been infesting the Israeli polity for the last several years.