Never before has the fundamental clash between the Bush administration’s values and interests been more clearly highlighted than it was last week in the West Bank and Gaza. And that accounted for Bush’s initial flowery tribute to Palestinian democracy, before the administration’s more belligerent bearing toward Hamas kicked in.
It’s not so much, critics contend, that the US is wrong in advocating free and fair elections. It’s that the White House has erred in pushing elections in societies with little or no underlying foundation of democratic values and institutions.
Speaking on PBS’s NewsHour, Khalil Jahshan, a former president of the National Association of Arab Americans, wondered about the wisdom of trying to encourage democracy “without tilling the ground, without tilling the soil to allow democracy to grow.”
Speaking on CNN, Republican senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, took the agricultural analogy even further, warning “it is very difficult to put democracy down like so much Astroturf on rocky soil, where it has never been.”
In Slate’s “You Asked for Democracy,” Shmuel Rosner, the chief US correspondent for Ha’aretz, wrote, “Bush succeeded phenomenally in getting the Palestinian Authority to conduct a lively and nonviolent election campaign with high voter turnout. But where will that success lead? The Israel establishment has always been suspicious of all this talk about the ‘democratization’ of the Middle East and chose to pursue a more ‘realistic’ approach: Let them have their suitable dictator so we can have our reliable partner.” (It’s worth noting that the two neighboring countries to make real peace with Israel, Egypt and Jordan were led, respectively, by a dictator and a monarch who most likely circumvented the will of the citizenry.)
For the media too, there may be a lesson in last week’s Palestinian vote. With journalists — rocked by the kidnapping of freelancer Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC anchor Bob Woodruff — now questioning whether being hunkered down in Baghdad is a sane and safe way to cover the conflict in Iraq, the Palestinian-election results are a stunning reminder of where the central narrative of the Mideast story is to be found.
What happens in Tel Aviv and Gaza City still holds the key to the geopolitical chessboard in that part of the world. That very few foresaw the region-changing, assumption-shaking Hamas win has to be counted a journalistic failing as well.
On the Web:
US State Department: http://www.state.gov/
Arab American Institute: http://www.aaiusa.org/
Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting in America (CAMERA): http://www.camera.org/
Email the author:
Mark Jurkowitz: email@example.com