WASHINGTON -- ``Grotesque'' was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's characterization of the charge that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was responsible for the current Middle East conflagration. She is correct, up to a point. This point: Hezbollah and Hamas were alive and toxic long before March 2003. Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies.
Speaking on ABC's ``This Week," Rice called it ``short-sighted" to judge the success of the administration's transformational ambitions by a ``snapshot" of progress ``some couple of years" into the transformation. She seems to consider today's turmoil preferable to the Middle East's ``false stability" of the last 60 years, during which U.S. policy ``turned a blind eye to the absence of democratic forces."
There is, however, a sense in which that argument creates a blind eye: It makes instability, no matter how pandemic or lethal, necessarily a sign of progress. Violence is vindication: Hamas and Hezbollah have, Rice says, ``determined that it is time now to try and arrest the move toward moderate democratic forces in the Middle East.''
But there also is democratic movement toward extremism. America's intervention was supposed to democratize Iraq which, by benign infection, would transform the region. Early on in the Iraq occupation, Rice argued that democratic institutions do not just spring from a hospitable political culture, they also can help create such a culture. Perhaps.
But elections have transformed Hamas into the government of the Palestinian territories, and elections have turned Hezbollah into a significant faction in Lebanon's parliament, from which it operates as a state within the state. And as a possible harbinger of future horrors, last year's elections gave the Muslim Brotherhood 19 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament.
The Bush administration has rightly refrained from criticizing the region's only democracy, Israel, for its forceful response to a thousand rockets fired at its population. U.S. reticence is seemly, considering that terrorism has been Israel's torment for decades, and that America responded to two hours of terrorism one September morning by toppling two regimes halfway around the world with wars that show no signs of ending.
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