Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Free elections, we have been told ad nauseam, lead to a healthy body politic called democracy. Unfortunately for those who see the cliche as an article of faith, free elections and democracy are not synonymous. Adolf Hitler won a free election — and went on to build the world’s most formidable war machine in history’s blink of an eye.

A free election recently propelled Evo Morales, a man whose idols are Fidel Castro and his Venezuelan lookalike Hugo Chavez, and who represents the coca growers of Bolivia, to the presidency of his country. Freely elected Mr. Chavez is spreading his oil-at-almost-$70-a-barrel money as the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter (and fourth-largest U.S. oil supplier) to push South and Central America and Mexico to a blend of neo-Marxism and state capitalism.

The far left’s candidate for the Mexican presidency has now pulled abreast of the other two challengers. And in Peru, Ollanta Humala, an anti-U.S. retired colonel who is the son of a communist leader, came out of nowhere to be touted as the next president — and third member of the “Andean troika” — in the April 9 presidential election.

Now Hugo Chavez is off on a buying toot in Spain and Brazil for military equipment that goes way beyond legitimate defense needs. Russian arms salesmen are also on the scene.

This week, tens of thousands from all over Latin America and Europe converged on Caracas for the World Social Forum, an anti-U.S. imperialism and anti-global capitalism jamboree timed to coincide with the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

A 1991 free election in Algeria produced an impressive majority for Islamist extremists. Unwilling to accept the result, the army canceled the results and went on ruling the country. A bloody, 10-year civil war followed. The toll: 100,000 massacred.

If the results of Pakistan’s last “free” election had not been partly pre-cooked, a coalition of six politico-religious extremist Islamist parties that see Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter would have taken over the Muslim world’s only nuclear power. As it was, they took over two of the country’s four provinces — the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan — and won 25 percent of the seats in the federal assembly. The results President Pervez Musharraf planned was designed to give the religious zealots enough weight to fend off U.S. pressure for freedom of movement against Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal border areas.

Enter Hamas, a politico-military party dedicated to the destruction of Israel, which swept into power in a free election that cleaned the less radical Fatah’s clock, and assumed absolute power not only in Gaza but also throughout a West Bank also populated by 340,000 Israelis (up from 240,000 since the turn of the century) in 140 settlements.

Happy days are here again for Iran surrogates on Israel’s frontiers: Hezbollah to the north, Hamas and its heavily armed, black-uniformed, balaclava-masked militia south and east.

The Palestinian elections, that enjoyed the White House seal of approval, have formally buried the Bush administration roadmap for a “contiguous and viable” Palestinian state. It was stillborn, but the powers that be acted out the peace process pantomime pretending it was only moribund.

V.I. Lenin said “violence is the midwife of history” and Hamas, like scores of other revolutionary movements formed in the 20th century, terrorized its way to power with no less than 60 suicide bombings.

Israel and the U.S. have made clear they will not deal with Hamas unless it recognizes Israel’s right to exist, disarms its militia and renounces what they call “terrorism.” Hamas, like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, sees Osama and his al Qaeda as history’s good guys on the side of liberation from “Zionist oppression” and “American imperialism.”

Hamas’ victory in a genuinely free election seals the permanence and further consolidation of the 420-mile, $2 billion physical barrier between Israel and the West Bank. This now-permanent frontier protects the largest Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory and annexes about 12 percent of its land. Any prospect of a Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem is gone for good.

The silver lining brigade sees Hamas becoming more moderate. Or do the optimists mean less extremist? The glass-is-half-full-and-filling school says now that Hamas is part of the democratic game, it will have to play by democratic rules. Just like Mr. Chavez in Venezuela or Mr. Morales in Bolivia — or long ago, when Mr. Castro took over in Cuba in 1959, or Pol Pot in Cambodia in 1975 — they will be “moderate agrarian reformers.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for United Press International and The Washington Times.

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