A “Pottery Barn” Occupation And “Democracy”

Even if Afghani apostate Abdur Rahman lives happily ever after in Italy, his case underscores a disturbing, but hardly novel, point. To what degree is the word “democracy” even applicable in our cross-cultural, Middle East mission?

And is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice going to intervene every time there’s Shariah shock — such as capital punishment for opting out of Islam — that flies in the face of civilizational norms? Realistically, what is the best we can hope for? That Americans have died for Taliban Lite?

Is this part of what Colin Powell was alluding to when he warned of the “Pottery Barn” principle of “you break it, you own it”?

While it’s politically incorrect to imply that “those” people aren’t ready for or receptive to democracy as we think we know it, the question of meaningful self-government still needs posing — even if it invites the wrath of those on the ethno-centrism watch.

Put it this way. We in America have no delusions about perfecting democracy for ourselves. Maybe we never recovered from Tammany Hall. Or perhaps Florida’s role in the 2000 election is all too illustrative.

And most elections, when you think about it, are variations on a student-council theme. Popularity-driven celebrity, looks and sound bites, slickly-packaged pandering, well-heeled supporters and plenty of vicarious-living worker bees can carry the day.

When more than half of registered voters (and that’s quite the qualification no matter how easy we make it) actually vote, it’s typically cause for self-congratulation. If newspapers didn’t make recommendations and endorsements, most voters would be totally clueless about local candidates, especially judges. The candidate-campaign process – from fund-raising to negative advertising – deters most of the best and brightest from running. National and local polls remind us that “civics education” is now an oxymoron. Anybody recall “hanging chads?”

We send Jimmy Carter forward and lecture the world at our own peril. We overlay democracy in our own vainglory.

But we are, to be sure, the world’s foremost democracy with a largely literate electorate in a free-press culture — not a Third World, post-colonial, feudal state.

What we should want for others in the Middle East is what anybody anywhere really wants. Stability. A guarantee that tomorrow won’t bring chaos. No one lives life in the democratic abstract.

Electing someone in the context of zero-sum tribalism and sectarianism is of problematic value no matter how many inked digits are waved in front of cameras. And such photo-ops are arguably a lot less important than delivering electricity, potable water, sewage control and freedom from assassination, chronic terror and infrastructure sabotage.

Couching our legitimate geopolitical priorities in the utopian rhetoric of democracy fools nobody but the na

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