Looking For Due Diligence In the World of Foreign Policy


Try to reconcile these two quotable quotes:

"We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you—the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family—most fear: We're on the side of your own people."
—Former CIA Director James Woolsey, in April, 2003

"I've asked why nobody saw [Hamas' election victory] coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse… I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas' strong showing."
—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, yesterday

Secretary Rice is a vast improvement over her immediate predecessor, and she shouldn't be tied too tightly to the neoconservative democratization project, for which her support always seems to have been pretty lukewarm. But come on, this soup is so thin you could read a fine-print Koran through it. How can anybody in a responsible foreign policy position claim she didn't know there was, at least, a strong likelihood that Hamas would win a Palestinian election? She doesn't know anybody who wasn't caught off guard? Who is she hanging out with—those Pauline Kael cronies who didn't vote for Nixon?

Even if Rice was honestly surprised, she shouldn't admit it. What's wrong with saying something like: "Of course, we've always known there was widespread support for groups of this type, but we're confident that with time and increasing opportunities for political expression, that support will burn up in Freedom's Unstoppable Wildfire." I don't have a lot of faith in that scenario, but I'd expect the Bush Administration's secretary of state to have faith in it.

Though it's entertaining to play gotcha with Rice, there's a more disturbing issue here: Are the architects of democratization prepared for the electoral strength of Islamists? Two or three years ago I'd have said: Sure, these guys are all otherworldly geniuses; they figured that stuff out ahead of time. Maybe they're betting that the popularity of Islamists is really a function of lack of political freedom (as in Egypt, for example, where Ayman Nour is in jail and the Muslim Brotherhood is one of only two parties on most ballots). Or possibly they're figuring these groups will be moderated or discredited once they get into power. But there's just no way they haven't considered such a basic question. Right?

Today, I would bet exactly $0.00 on the foresight of the Forward Strategists of Freedom. The problem isn't just that the War On Terrorism is being opposed by people who don't believe in it. It's that it's being waged by people who don't believe in it.

Related: In Time, Daniel Pipes, Moises Naim, Abdul Sattar Kasim, Dennis Ross, Ziad Abu Amr, and Richard Haass put in their combined 12 cents on Hamas' strong showing. ("Hamas have been taken by surprise by this as much as anyone else," says Abu Amr, who may be angling for a job at Foggy Bottom.)