AMERICANS HAVE short memories, at least when it comes to the Middle East. Once again pundits and opinion makers are jumping aboard the democracy-promotion train. There seems to be a renewed longing for the heady days of the Bush administration when the Washington conventional wisdom held that democracy promotion was the best antidote to regional anti-Americanism and terrorism. Two Middle East elections in June 2009-in Lebanon and Iran-were enough to bring the democracy mavens back to their laptops. When the expected victory of Hezbollah and its Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement of Michel Aoun, did not materialize in the Lebanese parliamentary election, it was hailed as the dawn of a new day. That was a Middle East election with a good outcome for America. And then there was the Iranian debacle: an election that seemed to expose both the fading electoral strength of anti-American Islamists (who apparently felt they had to steal the election to stay in power) and the growing street-level support for "moderates" and "secularists."
The enthusiasm with which these events, before they had even run their course, animated very sensible American commentators on foreign policy was remarkable. The scenes of brave Iranians standing up to a regime that respected neither their votes nor their intelligence were certainly inspiring. However, it was less inspiring to see how quickly those scenes were extrapolated to become a new data point in a supposed trend of non-Islamist and pro-American democratic movements in the Middle East. One election might be an aberration, but two elections cannot be anything but a trend. Or so one might think from reading the op-ed pages of America's leading newspapers.