Does misplaced correctness prevent us from asking why America doesn’t share the same penchant for bloodshed when we change leaders that we see during shake-ups in the Muslim Middle East, or why our religious disagreements don’t spawn violence throughout the Western world?
The reason democracy works in America is the same reason it will fail spectacularly in nations like Egypt. Our determination to make democratic nation-building work distracts us from an unpleasant, fundamental truth. Countries whose people take to the streets, rocks in hand, to protest slights to their religious beliefs and where a transnational Islamist movement competes with the military for control of a nation’s destiny are not ready for representative government. They are ready for violence, anarchy, and repression.
Can representative government build a better Muslim?
America has yet to give up on a time-honored nation-building strategy that has survived some appalling failures to be joined by embarrassment over the Muslim Brotherhood charade in Egypt. When Defense Secretary Hagel talked about the “American commitment to Egypt’s emerging democracy” (see: Is U.S. Aid to Buy Peace and Security Worth the Price?), did he remember what the people decided and who and what they put in office? That’s where democratic nation-building falls on its face. When it comes to the Middle East, America can’t build a better Muslim. Representative government is a tough thing to sell in a world where so many will refuse to embrace a government that subordinates the politics of their religion to the demands of democratic ideals.
Muslim world’s political solution is still the same.
Even our verbose Secretary of State seems conflicted about the failure of democratic government in Egypt. Secretary Kerry talked about a political solution even though the familiar violence opposed by the U.S. is a political solution in the Muslim world:
So this is a pivotal moment for all Egyptians. The path towards violence leads only to greater instability, economic disaster, and suffering. The only sustainable path for either side is one towards a political solution.¹
Nation-building for a better Middle East or a better America?
There is a limit to how much democracy the U.S. feels like buying. In Egypt’s case that limit is $1.5 billion. Threatening to retract a symbolic handout as the Saudis waive billions more to shape Egypt’s destiny and the future of the region makes us look like fools.
Secretary Kerry’s description of what the U.S. sought to gain has become a regrettable, albeit laughable pipe dream:
The United States strongly supports the Egyptian people’s hope for a prompt and sustainable transition to an inclusive, tolerant, civilian-led democracy.²
We were saying the same things about Syria not too long ago. The Syria Democratic Transition Act of 2013 proposed that the U.S.:
Support a political transition and the establishment of an inclusive, democratic government of Syria. The bill would encourage democratically-oriented political opposition groups to agree upon an inclusive transition plan that reflects the democratic aspirations of all Syrians.³
That should have read “the democratic aspirations of America.” Does anyone believe the Muslim Middle East will embrace the West just because we wish it?