The Weakness in Backing Strongmen

(Los Angeles Times) Max Boot - Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections offers more evidence for the failure of the cynical approach that the U.S. pursued before Bush came into office - using supposedly benign dictators to repress Islamic extremists. That, after all, was the rationale behind the Oslo process: Israel and the U.S. would support Arafat in the hope that he would deliver peace and crack down on the crazies. Palestine, like Iran, may have to pass through a period of Islamist misrule before it arrives at something better, as Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be doing under relatively moderate religious parties. That's unfortunate, but what's the alternative? There aren't many well-intentioned strongmen who will overhaul Islamic societies along Western lines and pave the way for democracy, as Kemal Ataturk did in post-Ottoman Turkey. Most of the dictators we wind up supporting or tolerating - not only Arafat but also Hosni Mubarak, Bashar Assad, Pervez Musharraf, the Saudi royals, and, once upon a time, Saddam Hussein - have a symbiotic relationship with Islamic extremists. The radicals serve the dictators' purpose: They scare the West into endorsing an illiberal status quo.

2006-02-03 00:00:00

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