Pro-American dictator or anti-American democracy? That's the choice in Pakistan now, where President (and top general) Pervez Musharraf has suspended his country's constitution, fired the country's chief justice and shut down nongovernmental television stations. He said had he not acted, Islamist extremists would have taken over the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues to urge publicly a return to democracy and the ending of "extraconstitutional measures." But it didn't take long after Musharraf's move for Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell to say it "does not impact our military support of Pakistan." You don't need a translator to spot the wink-winking that is going on.
The Bush administration has no good choices elsewhere, either. Palestinian democracy has led to Hamas rule. Saudi democracy likely would lead to Wahhabi rule unmitigated by royal family decadence. The State Department pushed publicly for Egyptian elections but wasn't hugely upset when Hosni Mubarak rigged them and jailed his leading opponent.
Must the U.S. be double-faced? Or are we in this position because we've put the cart before the horse, democracy before liberty? Former Soviet dissident and Israeli government minister Natan Sharansky is helpful here: In a Nov. 3 Wall Street Journal interview, he noted, "Democracy is a rather problematic word, because democracy is about technique. I would prefer freedom."
Freedom! The movie "Braveheart" has William Wallace calling out for freedom, not democracy, moments before his death. People in the British Isles and the United States had to fight for freedom before they developed democracy. Freedom includes freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the press. Without those, democracy quickly becomes mobocracy.
Freedom of religion is especially important because it leads to the others. All religions are not equal in this regard. Some religions are by nature decentralizing, in that they give equal ultimacy to the one and the many. Christianity, with its Trinitarian core, is paramount among the decentralizers. Other religions are centralizing. Islam, with its base in the story of Muhammad -- the purportedly perfect man, who became the theological, political and military leader -- is paramount among the centralizers.