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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

COMMENTARY
Hamas: Just desserts for America? Hardly

By Victor Davis Hanson

Unexpected. Terrible. Inevitable. Everyone has a particular take on the dramatic Palestinian election victory of Hamas.

Right-wing cynics of American support for Middle East democracy say that we got our just desserts for our naive idealism. How foolish to ever believe that such tribal people might vote themselves a responsible government!

"Be careful what you wish for," smug leftists chime in. But they harp that the Bush administration is hypocritical in lamenting the results. After all, how can the United States advocate democracy and then back away when it doesn't get pro-Americans?

Others hedge that the Hamas victory hardly means consensual government as we know it given the Palestinians' lack of an independent judiciary, free speech or habeas corpus.

There is even less consensus about the future. Pessimists point to the German elections of 1932 and 1933, which mainstreamed the Nazis and allowed them to seize power and destroy the very democratic machinery that had given them their legitimacy. Next, will the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Egypt and end reform ("one election, one time"), once we force the Mubarak dynasty to accept free and unfettered voting?

The more optimistic always counter with the example of Nelson Mandela's once-outlawed African National Congress. Those former militants evolved beyond terrorist attacks on the white apartheid government to become the ruling government of South Africa.

Israelis, too, are divided. Liberals there assume that Hamas must turn moderate, once it is forced to clean sewers and fix electrical cables rather than shoot guns off in the street when it doesn't get its way.

Conservatives there are oddly just as serene, but make a different argument: Now there will be no phony talk about a "militant" wing of Hamas or a duplicitous Palestinian Authority complaining that it can't control renegade suicide bombers. No, as legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, Hamas can at last lead their brave jihdadists in an open war against the vilified Jews. As in 1967 or 1973, let the battlefield adjudicate their warriors' future.

Yet there is one constant to all the bickering over the Hamas victory: Democracy, even in the violent Middle East, brings a certain clarity, and with it, at last, honesty.

Hamas can either renounce its charter principles or follow them by quite openly taxing its people to raise money for more suicide bombing brigades. As an Islamic state, it can craft sharia law and an open alliance with a similarly theocratic Iran, enjoying both the short-term benefits and global downside of such an Islamic axis. Nor do such anti-Western radicals need to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in infidel American and European largess.

Here in the United States, we should express relief rather than anxiety. None can accuse America of propping up right-wing puppets that do our bidding. We not only supported the elections, but also subsidized them. So now, with perfect consistency, we can accept Hamas' victory, but keep our money and distance from such creepy characters.

What we are witnessing are the aftershocks of the removal of Saddam Hussein and the messy democratization of the Middle East. These ensuing tremors have left pro-American autocrats in the Gulf and Egypt and hostile dictators in Syria, Libya and Iran trembling.

The upheaval is as dangerous and unpredictable as it is honest, since at last America has a consistent Middle East policy: We will encourage free and open elections, but need not always be friends of the subsequently elected governments.

We are in a new age in which the failed realist policy of bankrolling autocrats who pumped oil and kept away communists has run its course. The old slurs about American imperialism and CIA-engineered coups can now be put to rest. The Middle East will need to get a life and move beyond the stale half-century-old blame-America rhetoric that we propped up some corrupt Saudi royal in the 1940s or ruined an Iranian reform in the 1950s and thus forever set them back.

In the meantime, the U.S. must itself adapt to the new honesty, as we encourage the democratization of the Middle East and, for the foreseeable future, the likely emergence of grassroots anti-Western Islamic governments. First, we must pull our fingers out of the crumbling dikes of autocracy and cease giving any money to the corrupt status quo (such as the Mubarak dynasty). Such funds only encourage the sense of victimhood on the part of rival Islamists and give them anti-American ammunition in the elections to come.

Second, we must turn to more oil drilling at home, energy conservation, nuclear power and, most importantly for our transportation needs, methanol and ethanol production. Only then can we cease sending billions of petrodollars to the Middle East that warp its economy, subsidize otherwise failed ideologies and promise that the next arms race will turn nuclear.

So by all means, let them all vote and elect whomever they want and let a confident United States hope for the best and prepare for the worst.