Thursday, July 20, 2006

Brooks on Middle East Democracy

Today's column by David Brooks is worth reading, if you are able to peek behind the firewall. The bulk of the column is an unfortunately brief synopsis of the debate of two experts on the Middle East, Reuel Gerecht and Jeffrey Goldberg. Gerecht argued that democracy will in the short-term result in extremist governments with a profoundly anti-Israel bias, but that this pain is a necessary part of developing the institutions integral to democracy:
The only way to reform the Middle East, Gerecht concluded, is by changing political institutions and enduring as the spirit of democratic self-government slowly changes society. There will be a period of fever, but the fever will break the disease.
Goldberg argued that even if the roots of democracy were to survive such an initial period, such a period could easily stretch on for more than a century of jihadism against Israel and, internally, tolerance of such acts as "honor killings".
In Goldberg's view, cultural reform has to precede political reform. The West should continue to champion the Arab world's liberal modernizers, who believe in pluralism and human rights and who may have deeper roots in society than we think.
Gerecht notes that democractic movements have made some real advances; Goldberg notes that even with their participation in democracy key regional players such as Hamas and Hezbollah will always embrace Jihad.

Brooks himself sees the Bush Administration as taking Gerecht's position that institutions shape behavior, and "hanging tough" on the issue of democratic reform. And he argues that neither model is "winning" but that a worse outcome would be to return to the stablility of autocratic regimes such as those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia which spawed 9/11. (Brooks doesn't mention the sad state of democratic reform in those nations.)

Rather than asking "who is right", perhaps the better approach is to ask how the two models can complement each other. That is, accept Goldberg's position that we need to change hearts and minds now to move people away from jihadism, but also to accept Gerecht's position that we need to build the institutions of democracy in order for it to be sustainable over the long term. Even if we assume the best of intentions, the Bush Administration's policies appear to be paving the way to jihadism. I'm not sure that Brooks would disagree; I think to the degree he treats the models as incompatible it is so that he can praise the Bush Administration for its embrace of the institutional approach without confronting its present failings.

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