Is Democracy Enough?

In the aftermath of September 11th, many Western leaders espoused democracy as an elixir, or rather a mythical solution, to all the world’s problems. The Bush Administration touted its intentions of bringing democracy to the Middle East, and political pundits flooded the airwaves with messages dismissing alternate forms of government as barbaric and archaic. The Western mind came to inextricably link democracy and peace. As Israeli politician Natan Sharansky put it in his book, The Case for Democracy (which coincidentally appeared on the required reading list for members of the Bush administration), “the expansion of democracy is critical to our future.” The Bush Administration designed a grand strategy firmly grounded in the remedial powers of democracy, and committed vast political and military resources to instituting democracy in the Middle East. After more than four years of American military and diplomatic presence in the Middle East, it is fair to say that these efforts have not been in vain; the principles of democracy have penetrated Islamic culture and manifested themselves in Middle Eastern regimes. However, the realities of democracy have not matched our original hopes. Just last week, Palestinians democratically elected the terrorist organization Hamas. Last June, Iranians elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has since become a hindrance to the future of international nuclear security. While Iraq and Afghanistan are currently ruled by moderate, progressive regimes, it is all too possible that should the U.S. withdraw from the region, these governments would fall in democratic elections. In the cases of Palestine and Iran, the principles of democracy have worked against global peace and progress. Hamas loyalists dancing in the streets have no intention of coexisting with Israel, and Ahmadinejad has openly called for the destruction of the state of Israel. Democracy has certainly rooted itself in the Middle East, but it is now quite obvious that this manifestation of freedom has yielded a result which threatens international peace. Opinion polls of Palestinians have long reflected a desire to reach some sort of peace with Israel. The Hamas charter, however, calls on Islam to “obliterate” Israel and rules out any possibility of negotiation. Why then, did Palestinians elect Hamas over the more mainstream and nationalist Fatah party in the recent elections? The answer is simple: Hamas is genuinely popular among Palestinians. It is largely free of the corruption that riddled the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and has proven itself the more effective governor of the Gaza Strip. In the run-up to the election, Hamas also emphasized its record on education and welfare, and even abated its threats to destroy the state of Israel. Westerners must understand that Hamas gained power because, for the Palestinian people, Hamas was the optimal choice. Fatah may be more conciliatory toward Israel, but the Fatah-led government was corrupt and utterly ineffective domestically. The result of the Palestinian election betrays a commonly overlooked flaw of democracy that has beleaguered the global community for the duration of the 20th century. Those who consider democracy to be an elixir must remember that freedom bears responsibility. In the early 1930’s, Germans democratically voted for Hitler and Italians for Mussolini. They were the best leaders their respective countries had and, for the common man, their immediate domestic agendas overshadowed the long-term potential ramifications. In Germany’s case, Hitler’s regime fostered domestic progress, but this progress came at the price of, arguably, the most cataclysmic event of our time. This long-term consequence was barely on the radar of German voters during the 1930’s. From an ideological standpoint, democracy is the least imperfect form of government. However, situations such as Germany and Italy in the early 20th century, and Iran and Palestine today ,illustrate that democracy is extremely shortsighted. As the global community remains blissfully ignorant, repeatedly embellishing the merits and abilities of democracy for the sake of its own comfort, citizens in individual nations take part in the democratic process in a purely domestic manner, and not at all with global interests in mind. The lesson we learn from the recent elections in Iran and Palestine is that today, democracy is simply not enough. In an increasingly amalgamated world, national and international interests too frequently diverge. The global community has become interdependent to the point that individual citizens must be aware of the domino effect of their decisions. At the same time, Western leaders cannot expect Iranian or Palestinian citizens to compromise their own benefit for the lofty ideal of “global stability.” Until we reach a point at which the domestic interests of Iranians and Palestinians converge with those of the global community, international security will continue to be threatened by militant regimes. Aligning these interests is a difficult task, easier said than done. Nonetheless, if the international community does not find a way to convince Palestinians and Iranians that they have a better alternative, international security will continue to suffer.