The stark realization slowly dawning on Washington is that the United States cannot be on the right side of Arab democracy if it is on the wrong side of Palestinian freedom. Israel’s security and peace treaties are certainly compatible with a recalibrated American policy in the region, but not the continuation of occupation and inequality for Palestinians. This shouldn’t pose such a conundrum: the status quo has constrained the prospects for both the Arab and Jewish-Israeli publics. For all of its qualitative military edge and American backing, Israel does not feel secure, accepted or calm about its future.
Things get messy though when America fails to apply its own values to the Middle East. Some are advocating for precisely that values-free option, apparently believing that the adage of Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East is not so much a lament as an aspiration. That translates into continued support for Arab autocracies or insisting on what might be called democracy minus for Arab countries in which the balance between military and civilian rule still rests primarily with the former, and by denying democratic Islamist parties the right to participate in peaceful politics.
Representative government in the Arab world will inevitably include a role for Islamists, something seized on by democracy’s opponents as a scare tactic to plead for the continued rule of the authoritarian devil we know. Those warning of a Khomeinist takeover are either desperately ignorant of Arab reality or intentionally misleading. Iran’s system of theocratic republicanism carries no attraction for the Arab pro-democracy movements. If anything, it is Turkey’s system of parliamentary citizen-state democracy, which is held up as a model.
There is another way to look at this region in transition and to plan for the future. The best option for getting this right and being credible is in allowing American policy to reflect American political values.
Imagine that: American foreign policy that isn’t riddled with hypocrisy!
George Bush — with a less than democratic spirit — used to say, you’re either for us or against us. The same can be said about democracy: you’re either for democracy or against it.
We no longer live in an era where something called democracy can be reserved for a privileged minority. Those who now claim that democratic rights should only be selectively recognized are, quite simply, opponents of democracy.