Since the surprising victory by Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, there has been a significant measure of schadenfreude on the part of the media and Bush administration critics. Pointing out that the administration has based its foreign policy largely on the thesis that spreading democracy throughout the Middle East is both doable and desirable, an article in the aftermath of the Palestinian elections posted at Salon by Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, asked sarcastically, "How do you like your democracy now, Mr. Bush?"
Formerly known as the Islamic Resistance Movement and designated as a terrorist group by the United States government and the European Union, Hamas declares itself opposed to the very existence of Israel and has claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings. Beyond the sheer political embarrassment, Hamas' victory places the United States in a dicey diplomatic and legal situation.
Under U.S. law, the government may not have contacts or official dealings with any state or organization on the State Department's official terrorist list. Yet the Palestinian elections were urged by the administration in spite of the fact that Hamas had not disarmed nor had it renounced its intention to drive Israel off the face of the Earth. By every indication, the elections were fair and legitimate, and Hamas has the right to form a government.
The short answer to the gloaters and the basis for crafting a policy to deal with the situation is there is more to democracy than simply voting. Elections without the accompanying institutions of democracy - the rule of law, individual liberty and civil rights, private property, civil society, functioning government institutions - is "all sail and no rudder." The political system scuds along at a frightening pace in whatever direction the wind is blowing, but it lacks any institutional steering mechanism to drive the system into the political winds to reach its ultimate destination of security and efficient delivery of government services.
The common-sense observation that democracies do not spring fully formed was confirmed by a United Nations University study that concluded premature or inadequately designed elections in a volatile environment may fuel violence, magnify chaos and lead to authoritarian regimes, thereby retarding - and sometimes reversing - progress toward democracy.