Let's Strangle Democracy

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

Asked yesterday in Paris about her infamous "birth pangs" line last summer, in which American-backed Israeli cluster bombings of Lebanon signaled "a new Middle East," Condoleezza Rice insisted that "democracy is hard."

"I see it as especially hard when there are determined enemies who try and strangle it."

Quite. But who are these selective enemies of democracy? Rice would almost certainly cite the Syrian-backed car bombers in Beirut who target politicians from the pro-Western March 14th movement. Just as easily, she would ignore the democratically elected Hamas, insisting that funding and arming a scattered and corrupt Fatah -- soundly defeated in 2006 polls for just those reasons -- was and remains pro-democratic.

Or, at least, it favors the "moderates."

Do we know the difference anymore? Or is democracy only democracy when the elected like being in America's orbit, and visa versa?

I am not in the States so I don't know what the crush of media coverage from Gaza and the West Bank has looked like (though it's a relief to read a CNN transcription like this one). For every op-ed about strategic U.S. efforts to arm and train Fatah fighters to weaken the Palestinians' chosen Hamas government -- one of the best by Augustus Richard Norton in The Boston Globe -- there are quick calls to rename Gaza "Hamastan" and punish all of its already-refugeed and impoverished inhabitants for every Qassam rocket that might now hit Israel. Which ignores that fact that many of those are fired by Islamic Jihad, which Hamas forces have stopped at gunpoint in recent days from firing rockets across the border.

In March in Egypt, during the push-through of constitutional amendments that bolstered the ruling National Democratic Party, did away with independent judges to observe elections, strengthened already draconian "anti-terror" laws, and banned political organizations on religious lines, the U.S. was totally mum. Scott McCormack did a "we don't want to insert the U.S. into Egyptian politics" dance for the press, two years after Rice had said just the opposite in a lecture at the American University in Cairo:

"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.

Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

Except when those people are not pro-Western Fatah, or are young urban professionals in Cairo who believe in certain ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood. But perhaps I need to be more cynical, like the Secretary of State. After all, this is about stability, and the limits of rhetoric when bogged down in a years-long occupation that cannot escape even the quickest conversation in Cairo. Democracy only works to a point, especially when up against such determined enemies, trying to strangle it.