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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 28 January 2006
Political Theory: Power Doesn't Corrupt, It Forces Pragmatic Dreariness
Topic: For policy wonks...

Political Theory: Power Doesn't Corrupt, It Forces Pragmatic Dreariness

The old saw is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But put aside consideration of the Republican Party in firm control of the executive and legislative branches of the government, and about to pack the highest court with its newest "yes man," and the coincidental Abramoff lobby scandal, and the former leader of the House under indictment in Texas, and the current leader of the Senate under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Medicare Plan D mess with the pharmaceutical corporations and HMO's raking in the bucks while hundreds of thousands of the elderly and poor suddenly cannot get their medications and the states have to toss in millions so people don't die, and the half-hearted effort to fix New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and all the business with Halliburton and the other contractors in Iraq scamming the system left and right, and the president's supporters, and the president, claiming he can break any law he decides is keeping him from doing what he alone decides is best (eminent scholar and Federal Judge Richard Posner says that's fine here, and discussion here). And disregard the tax cuts that hit the middle class and let the rich get much richer, the budget that cuts services and rewards corporations who make donations to the ruling party, the soaring deficit and all the "pork" in the budget for each home district or state, and all that economic stuff. This isn't about that.

Imagine you're a struggling minority party, one most everyone reviles, and suddenly you're voted into power and have to run things. What do you do then? Does the sudden ascension to full power make you power mad - you can now do all the things you were screaming about - or do have to drop all the inflammatory rhetoric and settle down and do the nuts and bolts things all governments must do, that dreary stuff like making sure everything runs and someone pick up the garbage and the electricity and water keeps flowing?

That is what seems to be playing out in the Middle East. There were those elections Wednesday the 25th in Palestine and the Islamic fundamentalist group, Hamas, to the surprise of everyone, won 76 of the 132 seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council. They didn't expect that themselves. No one expected it. And now they have to run things.

So what will that mean? Of course, Hamas proudly claims responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians - they have a militant arm" - and their core aim is to wipe out Israel. We designate them a "terrorist group" and so does Israel and the European Union. They are not good guys. But then they have long run their network of health-care and social programs for Palestinians, and ran on the platform that the Fatah Party was corrupt and not taking care of its own people - and was talking too much to Israel and the United States.

It seems voters there agreed the relatively moderate Fatah Party was a bunch of crooks and not taking care of things. They threw the bums out. And they got the alternative - the people who do some good, and are a bit more honest - even if they are wild-eyed terrorists willing to kill women and children and plan to wipe out Israel and are shunned in horror by most of the civilized world.

You cannot have everything.

You do get riots in the streets - anger at the old party that lost, the Fatah police and militias screaming this and that. Chaos.

As mentioned elsewhere - People Deciding What They're Not Supposed to Decide - the Bush drive to democratize the Middle East has backfired, big time. Democracies are peaceful, so we'll let folks vote and everything will be fine.

Israel told us this Palestinian election was a really, really bad idea. We told them elections were always good - and they were wrong, Hamas should be on the ballot. Others, in a more general way, suggested holding elections was only a small part of establishing a democracy, in Iraq and in Palestine and anywhere - you need a culture and institutions to make things work, and a shared sense of cooperation and all that. The administration preferred the cartoon version - people vote and things will be fine.

So now Hamas will set policy for the Palestinian Authority. And former Fatah leader Abbas remains president and commander of Palestine's official police force. Yipes.

This wasn't in the script.

How did this happen? Scott MacMillan offers an explanation here -
Critics say Bush himself deserves much of the blame by promoting what Daniel Pipes and others have pejoratively dubbed the "pothole theory" of democracy: the idea that if you allow radical Islamists into the political fold and get them competing for votes - and dealing with mundane civic issues like fixing potholes and collecting garbage - they will, by necessity, turn moderate and palatable. At the very least, so the theory goes, such inclusion will force a split between the "hard men" and those willing to pursue Islamist goals through peaceful means.
Well it's nifty theory.

But Hamas has no idea how to run a government. Hamas asked Fatah to enter into a coalition. Fatah refused, maybe, as MacMillan suggests, because they screwed things up so badly there's no money for anything and everything was so mismanaged there's no fixing it all - let them sink. There's this quote from Ziyad Abu Ein, a Fatah official - "Let Hamas alone bear its responsibilities, if it can."

This is not looking good.

But can the nifty "pothole theory" of democracy actually work, and Hamas turn, well, mundane and harmless? They do have a government to run, after all.

MacMillan says there's evidence it might, noting in London's Financial Times earlier this month, an anonymous senior official in the Bush administration cited two French scholars, Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel, who have long noted that political Islam becomes less caustic the less it is repressed. But they're French.

But there is this -
In Egypt, the banned Muslim Brotherhood has donned democratic garb since President Hosni Mubarak began tolerating the group in the mid-1980s.

The movement now speaks of pluralism and civil liberties, although its supporters still hate Jews, call the Holocaust "a myth," and dismiss al-Qaida as "an illusion." A similar shift took place in Tunisia between 1975 and 1990, when the national Islamist movement adopted more liberal positions on women's rights and democratic reforms as the government temporarily relaxed its repression.
Well, will this work out in this case? MacMillan acknowledges the commentators who worry that Hamas will create a Taliban-like fundamentalist enclave - "Hamastan" - in the West Bank and Gaza - these folks who say Iran will step in to finance the Palestinian Authority as funding from the European Union, the United States, and Israel goes away. That's possible.

But as is clear, "the more immediate issue is how Hamas will adapt to the reality of the existence of Israel, whose citizens now play the role of lab rats in Bush's grand experiment with potholes and democracy."

Yep, whatever the Hamas rhetoric, Israel is not going to magically disappear without a trace - and one assumes the people of Israel are not happy about being lab rats in this experiment to see if Hamas, of necessity, turns boring and bureaucratically efficient.

We'll see what happens. It is a grand experiment. One suspects many will die as we see if it works, or not. But then again, they won't die here.

Posted by Alan at 16:20 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 January 2006 16:27 PST home

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