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US should support all democracy, no matter whom it brings to power

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Should Americans and their leaders be pushing for greater democratization in the Middle East even if this process risks bringing to power parties - including avowedly Islamist parties - that seem strongly opposed to US policies?

Yes. All people who claim they're committed to democracy have to be for the process even if - at home or abroad - it brings to power parties with which we disagree. That is the whole point of democratic practice, after all: to allow people with widely differing ideas to work together to resolve those differences through discussion and the ballot box, rather than through violence.

But what if some countries elect committed Islamists as leaders? Should we fear "one person, one vote, one time"in these cases any more than any others? In the Middle East, as elsewhere, there have been plenty of "elected" leaders who have hung onto power through brutal oppression - in the name of avowedly "secular" values. (Saddam Hussein comes to mind.)

Conversely, there have been openly Islamist parties that have governed fairly well and retained a commitment to democratic principles. One is Turkey's Justice and DevelopmentParty - known as AK. Since winning the 2002 elections the AK has retained voter support while strengthening the rights of ethnic minorities and being much more flexible than all its secular predecessors in diplomacy over the 30-year dispute with Greece over Cyprus.

True, in 2003 the AK government refused to allow US forces headingfor Iraq to pass through Turkey. But the AK didn't do that out of outright hostility toward the US. Like many other nations it opposed the war, preferring to giveUN inspectors more time to work on finding the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration claimed that Hussein possessed. (This week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been meeting President Bush in a fence-mending visit to Washington.)


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