To Talk or Not To Talk?-That is The Question

To Talk or Not To Talk?-That is The Question

In the Middle East and elsewhere, we do not have the luxury of choosing our allies like dessert, based on our inclinations or whether we happen always to like what they say. The Muslim Brotherhood merits our attention.

Muravchik also lamented the "true Arab liberals" he claims we are betraying by advocating talks with the Muslim Brotherhood. Could he by chance be referring to Egypt's Kifaya ("Enough"), the first indigenous mass democracy movement the Muslim world has known? The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest organized force in that coalition, alongside liberals, Nasserists, Communists, secularists and assorted organizations. But the Bush Administration is in the process of abandoning Kifaya to the tender mercies of Hosni Mubarak's "constitutional reform."

For all its weeds, the Muslim Brotherhood consistently lines up in solidarity with democratic forces in undemocratic countries like Egypt and Syria. They have allied with governments in democratic countries (like Britain and France). They are allied with people we consider our friends. Evidence of that is overwhelming. But when push comes to shove we find Muravchik attacking the leading opposition to the Mubarak dictatorship. Surely an odd way to support democracy.

History rarely provides definitive tests of political doctrine. The landslide defeat of the Sandinistas in 1989 provided one. The fall of the Berlin Wall provided another. The Iraq war has been another, and it has deeply discredited the neoconservatives who blithely predicted not only democracy in Iraq, but a democratic wind that would topple autocracies and bring forth democracies throughout the Middle East. Some who made these predictions have been embarrassed into silence; others choose to rail against the studies that don't come up with the conclusions they hoped for.

I had hoped that the intellectual architects and the ideologists of this policy would take their cue from Paul Wolfowitz and find something else to do. Or they might have re-examined their assumptions and concluded that their method was an erroneous one. They might have held their silence. Or they might have forthrightly acknowledged error, confessed that schema are no guides for policy or substitutes for empirical research. But deliberate, independent examination is not fashionable in Washington or in our media, where predictable extreme positions and knee-jerk reactions are rewarded.

Robert S. Leiken is Director of the Immigration and National Security Programs at the Nixon Center and the author of the forthcoming Europe's Angry Muslims.