Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas, Legitimacy, and Democratic Peace Theory

The big news today was that Hamas has won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislative elections. Given that Hamas is a terrorist organization with its own militia, it has been interesting to see the world's response to their victory. We've placed so much value in free democratic elections that you have to wonder what happens "when the bad guys win". Many Bush-haters probably expected the president to try to quash the election, but in his news conference today, he expressed his unease that the Palestinians elected terrorists, but he also spoke highly of the fact that the Palestinians were able to hold a free and fair election.

As much havoc as Hamas has wreaked, I actually think that there is some benefit to come out of their election. First of all, it removes much of the corrupt old Fatah politicians who have never really accomplished anything. But more importantly, it places the people who actually have power in power. Hamas is widely admired among the Palestinians and they have been a force to be reckoned with. But since they were outside the government, they never had to be responsible for their actions. Before, if their forces attacked, it was an act of terrorism. Now, they are the government, and an attack is an act of war.

Stratfor's Morning Intelligence Report (sorry, it's subscription, can't link to it) alluded to this, saying that
it was in Hamas' interest to remain neck-and-neck with Fatah in the election: Its members realize that they need Fatah to remain the lead player in the PNA's dealings with the global community. With Hamas now in the lead, its heightened political legitimacy puts its ability to resist disarming at risk.
In the past, the Palestinian Authority could always claim that it could not control other militant groups when they attacked. Whether or not this was actually true is irrelevant; the point was that they had deniability. Now that the main militant group is in legitimate power, they can no longer use this excuse. The election has served to clarify the will of the Palestinian people, which may make the situation more straightforward. It might be easier to negotiate with a Hamas-led government because they have the power and the control of most of the militants. And if Hamas should choose confrontation, Israel should have no guilt fighting back because the freely elected Palestinian government is reflecting the will of the people.

All of this makes you think twice about democratic peace theory (the definition of which seems to be under dispute on Wikipedia). Basically, the hypothesis is that democracies don't fight each other. The reason is not clear, but they just haven't done so in history. I would venture to guess that it's because all the democracies have been either from the same political culture and are either separated by large distances (think USA, Australia, and now India) or grouped together while facing a larger enemy (think Europe in the Cold War). But when two peoples are starkly opposed to each other, a democratically elected government will reflect that hostility towards the other. There seems to be the assumption that wars are only because of conflicts between the elites. That often does happen, but it's not the only cause. Large demographic and societal clashes can lead entire peoples into conflict with each other.

So if democratic peace theory is not always true, what is one to do? Not much, just realize while that spreading democracy is generally a good thing, it will not always produce friendly governments. However, whether friendly or hostile, at least a democratically elected government can reasonably be expected to represent its people's will and thus is the legitimate party with which to negotiate or fight.


At 2:42 PM, Blogger bigwill said...

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. What do you think King George (of England, not Texas) thought of George Washington et al.?


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