Sushi, Without the Extras

How do you think he got the ideas for the Prince? From his cat, of course.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas musings

Security class opened today with a feature on Hamas winning control over the Palestinian Authority, and I think the event got short shrift during the ensuing discussion. A colleague counselled maintaining the current policy of wait-and-see what the crazies are going to do and posited that they'd moderate their policies because they can't afford to lose backing from the countries around them that do business with us or even from the country that supplies nearly a quarter of the world's economy. The next argument was that Hamas would have to tone down its activities in order to stay in power. There seemed to be some consensus that Hamas had "shot its wad" by getting elected.

I'm not so convinced by either of these positions. Hamas has the wide majority of seats in the legally elected government, so it does not need to deal with other forces at work within the country. There's also the distinct possibility that Hamas decides that the best way to remain in power is to continue its activities against the Israelis because failing to do so might jeopardize its legitimacy. In fact, Hamas could regard its election as a mandate and attempt to ally with Ahminedjad in order to oust Israel from the West Bank. I'm not saying this would be a good idea, as open warfare would be counterproductive, even for Hamas' goals, but it is a possibility.

Even if Hamas does step down slightly, there's so much bad blood between Hamas and Israel, that it's unlikely that the Israelis will tolerate a Hamas-controlled government. Israel's already in a difficult position what with the Sharon mess. The peace process has been stalled at the very least, and at the worst, violence could break out that would destabilize the region, yet again. Only this time, we have a hardline conservative in Iran who's looking to nuclearize and not one but two occupations by the United States in the region, which are already problematic. I don't like those odds. With a violently anti-Israeli and anti-American government in power, in all probability, the world is holding its breath to see not only what Hamas will do but what Americans will do.

In a certain sense, Hamas has played the American game and won. The U.S. has held itself out as the champion of democracy, even going into Iraq under the pretense that democritization of the country would benefit everyone there. The Palestinian Authority is a "democratic" Arab nation, and the Palestinian people sent a clear message to the world that "democracy" and "American ideals" are not equivalent. As Farley pointed out in class, there's an even darker element to this equation: what happens when Iraq's democratically elected government elects another Ahminedjad? I'm not comfortable with that either.

So, how do I think about this? I can think about this as a class of values. Americans have traditionally equated "democracy" with the "American way". Clearly this is not true, and we should have known better. It's been posited that democracies don't fight democracies, and again, I'm not really certain that I believe that either. Certainly, democracies rage economic war against each other why couldn't two democracies with conflicting values make war upon each other, particularly if there's a perceived threat to something of value: on one side oil security and on the other a deeprooted belief that the other value-system is inherently antithetical to one's own.

Furthermore, we've lost an important card--that of a certain amount of moral superiority. "We're better than that because we're a liberal democracy." By pushing for democracy in threat-nations we may have undermined that element of soft-power that we've been playing as a trump card since WWII.

There's a lot I'm trying to work through here. There are elements from economic statecraft--trade is good, money is good, efficiency is good; we all need each other to trade, historical issues--"God, Money, and the American way". Security issues, clearly and finally issues surrounding how we're going to negotiate a path that's become even trickier.

I wonder what will happen when Israel asks for help dealing with the new problem, and who are they going to ask? The United States.

I feel wonderfully underqualified to even be thinking about this problem as it's stretching me rather uncomfortably. I clearly don't know enough about history or political science to follow this post through.


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