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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 29, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Mideast dictatorships have their advantages

A political talking point all the rage earlier this year was that U.S. expenditures of money and lives to promote democracy was also justified as a means to maintain international peace.

The presidential election in Iran suggests otherwise.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed the postulate in her January confirmation hearings:

"America is safer, and the world is more secure, whenever and wherever freedom prevails," Ms. Rice said.

Iran took a step toward that freedom last week with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Through their votes, 17 million Iranians guffawed at Ms. Rice's idealism.

Democracy does much to ease a nation's internal strife. Its role as a catalyst for international peace, however, is far from clear. Indeed, as the Iranian election demonstrates, it can have the opposite result.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's landslide victory put in office an anti-American zealot who expressly supports a worldwide Islamic empire.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Mr. Ahmadinejad was "no friend of democracy" and dismissed the vote as a "mock election." He based the criticism on the fact that Iranian voters did not have an unrestricted choice of candidates.

Iranian voters, however, did have a choice. Their choice was between moderate candidates and an anti-American extremist. They chose the extremist.

We need to be careful what we ask for. In Iran and many other countries around the world, pragmatic dictators advance U.S. security more than Islamic majorities.

One of the best examples is Pakistan. A recent survey of Pakistanis showed 72 percent of them disapproved of the United States. Fifty-five percent opined that the United States is trying to take over the world. Osama bin Laden, according to the same survey by Pew Research Center, has a 65-percent approval rating in Pakistan, and 47 percent of Pakistanis believe suicide bombs are justifiably used against Americans.

But Pakistan's dictator, Perez Musharraf, has made Pakistan one of our most important allies.

Democracy empowers the majority. And in the Middle East, that is a frightening fact.

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