Monday, June 25, 2007

Bottom falling out of the freedom agenda?

First off, I apologize for the lack of a substantive post in about a week. The Army saw fit to leave me in charge of a skeleton crew at the Pentagon while everyone and their mom from the Army security cooperation program went to the Paris Air Show. I know, you're probably asking yourself "What are a bunch of groundpounders doing at some flyboy convention?" Well the Army does have its fleet of combat helicopters and cargo planes to think about.

Anyways, I examine how recent events in the Palestinian territories and the United States' policy responses have hammered the final nails in the coffin for the Bush administration's "freedom agenda":

It has been almost two weeks since Fatah's security forces lost Gaza to Hamas gunmen. Not long after the Presidential compound was seized by Hamas, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert moved firmly behind Palestinian Authority (PA) President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. They also agreed, along with the EU and UN, to release millions in Palestinian tax revenue and international aid that had been embargoed since Hamas joined the PA government after winning a majority on the Palestinian Legislative Council back in January 2006.

The Arab states neighboring also met with Abbas and Olmert for about 45 minutes today in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to throw their weight behind the Fatah government in the West Bank. All of these theatrics have apparently encouraged Hamas to return to dialogue with Fatah, but it is way to early in the game to know whether this opening will be big enough to drive the 18-wheel power-sharing agreement needed to stem future violence through it.

The problem is that, as Robert Malley and Aaron D. Miller so aptly point out, Hamas's electoral victory can't be undone through the intervention of foreign powers into Palestinian politics. The Quartet has a legitimate reason for denying foreign aid and maybe even Palestinian tax revenue to a government led by an unrepentant Hamas. Palestinian finances and bureaucracy are often so opaque it would be very difficult to guarantee the cash wouldn't be used to fund suicide bombings or Qassam rocket attacks.

Trying to use such funding to create a reinvigorated Fatah party to muscle Hamas out of the political scene, on the other hand, is an incredibly short-sighted policy. It says to the average Palestinian that the U.S. is only interested in electoral democracy, as long as it produces governments with policies that are compatible to U.S. interests. As the disintegration of Fatah-Hamas relations in Gaza demonstrated, attempting to create a winner in Palestine will only serve to undermine what is left of the U.S.'s image as a well-intentioned mediator. It will also push the Palestinian people straight into the open arms of the extremists that we are seeking to undermine, while at the same time, allowing Fatah to become more corrupt and factionalized.

Think I'm crazy? Just look at how unflinching U.S. support for Jiang Jieshi's leadership of the Kuomintang turned out for Chinese democrats. If the Bush administration honestly thinks it can turn Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah into a winner in the West Bank, they need to think again. It is time to get Fatah and Hamas at the table and bang some heads together.

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