17 June 2010

The problem with democracy

It was the stated policy of the Bush administration, and ostensibly, is now the policy of the Obama administration, to spread democracy the world over. This has perhaps been best embodied by the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, when, after WMDs were nowhere to be found, the president justified his actions by touting that a new democracy had sprung up amongst neighbors who are anything but democratic.

Truth be told, this is a noble goal. And I certainly don't fault President Bush for pursuing it as a measure of foreign policy, especially when the idea of dictatorship is so patently antithetical to the idea of freedom and the rights we Americans believe all world citizens enjoy.

But democracy has its consequences -- especially in the Middle East. In Iraq, the popular, radical Sunni cleric Mudtaqa al-Sadr gave the Bush administration fits and ordered "fatwas" killing hundreds of innocent Iraqis (not to mention American servicemen). In Afghanistan, the "democratically elected" Hamid Karzai threatened to join the Taliban and continues to run perhaps the most corrupt government in the world. And in Gaza, the Palestinians went to the polls and elected the members of Hamas -- a legitimate terrorist organization -- to be their ruling party. As a result of this decision, the Israeli army promptly initiated a blockade of the Palestinian settlements in Gaza.

Democracy has consequences. Many technically democratically elected leaders -- Hamas, Iran's Ahmadenijad and Belarus' Lukashenka, among others, aren't even recognized diplomatically by the United States. On the other hand, the U.S. is quite friendly with a number of full-on dictatorships, most critically the ruling class in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a Muslim theocracy. Palestinians in Gaza, on the other hand, have legitimately chosen Hamas to lead them after free and fair elections.

Such is the problem with making the "spread of democracy" a pillar of foreign policy. I am not necessarily opposed to the spread of democracy as an ideal, and believe that America retains its glow as the shining city on the hill -- the world's greatest democracy.

But we must be ever mindful of what can happen when individuals with very different interests, and in very different parts of the world, choose their leaders.

No comments: