Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democracy Is Good – Even When the Bad Guys Win

The blogosphere is rampant with pontificating on what happens when the Bad Guys win. In Iraq, for example, the secular factions (“our” guys) were dealt an overwhelming defeat in December’s elections. The more Islamic fundamentalist, Iran-aligned groups took big majorities, portending a future Iraq ruled as a Sharia-inspired democratic theocracy. Most likely, that wasn’t what the Neocons intended pre-invasion.

And now we have Hamas. They shocked even themselves by winning a large majority in yesterday’s Palestinian elections. The vote was a clear repudiation of the cronyism, corruption, and incompetence of the Palestinian Authority of the last many years (hmm….sounds like the modern-day Republican party). Clearly, the Palestinian people understand the fundamentals of representative democracy: they voted with their feet. Again, when President Bush speaks of the spread of democracy, “freedom on the march”, I’m not so sure a Hamas win was what he had in mind.

So, then, is democracy bad when the Bad Guys win? Many Bush-haters have argued as much, using these examples as a club with which to bludgeon the administration’s foreign policy.

But I will have nothing of it. While I do take some pleasure in watching the Bushies squirm a bit in the face of these results, I argue strenuously that all such representative democracy is a good thing – no matter who wins.

Why? Because, now, the winners are accountable. The must figure out how to make it work.

The winning Iraqi factions must figure out how to bring stability to that wreck of a country – not through an increased foreign occupying force, but internally – both through strengthened home-grown security forces and the underestimated power of political persuasion. No longer will they have the excuse that “the Americans are screwing this up.” It’s theirs. They own it. They own fixing it (which actually is kind of convenient, since we were the ones who broke it. Perhaps Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn Doctrine” doesn’t really apply). And, as politicians, they realize that if they don’t, they will face an angry and disappointed constituency the next time around.

The same with Hamas. They are today a terrorist organization. But will they be in three or five years? Not if they, too, wish to remain in the political majority. A legislature – whether in Columbus or Annapolis or the West Bank or Baghdad - is, above all, held accountable for making the trains run on time. That’s hard to do if your party – or folks aligned with your party – is perceived to be blowing up said trains. The accountability of representative democracy will force Hamas to abandon their violent ways and adopt more traditional democratic tactics – doling out favors, positions, funds, and getting things done (calling Jack Abramoff!). They will be held accountable by the Palestinian voters for a secure and stable society. They will have to actually govern.

And the political market forces may just help to turn them from Bad Guys to Good.

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