Joe Klein and the Rotten Fruit of Arab Democracy

Sometimes words fail. Joe Klein, writing in the new issue of Time, wonders:

How on earth do we get saddled with such creepy clients as Karzai and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, over and over again?

Yes, why do they keep doing this to us?!

His piece is a pox-on-both-houses rant about U.S. foreign policy: The “realists” often end up coddling dictators, and the idealists don’t understand how the world works. Of the latter, he writes:

the tangible fruits of the Freedom Agenda turned out to be mostly rotten: elections in the Palestinian territories, which no one but Hamas (and Bush) wanted, produced a Hamas plurality; a push for democracy in Afghanistan produced a foolish constitution, centralizing power in a notoriously decentralized country, and corrupt elections. And the jury is still out on Iraq, where the most vital “democratic” force may turn out to be the populist, Iran-leaning cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

If this is supposed to represent some special category of policy wisdom, it fails miserably–it’s a fairly standard complaint among pundits that democracy that produces the wrong results (for us)is bad democracy. Klein has a better idea:

A smarter foreign policy would quietly promote a careful transition from autocracy to something more benign. The best way to do this is to latch onto institutions, not individual leaders, in the developing countries we seek as allies.

That institution? The military.

Military aid comes with strings that bind–the continuing need for spare parts, for example. But strong armies create security, a necessary precursor for democracy.

Klein is decent enough to add that “armies have provided a steady global diet of horrific dictators.” I guess that risk still beats letting people control their own lives.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.