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Vali Nasr is an Iranian-American political commentator and scholar of contemporary Islam. Born in Iran, Nasr and his family immigrated to the United States following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Nasr[…]

“In the long run democracy has to be the answer.”

Question: Is Democracy the answer for the Middle East?

Vali Nasr: Well in the long run democracy has to be the answer. I may be wrong, but everything I’ve been taught in the ivory tower; or everything I’ve learned from reading about the rest of the world, will tell you that authoritarianism ultimately is not tenable. It’s a Band-Aid strategy. It will work for two years, five years, 10 years; but, end of the day, it’s inconceivable that the Middle East can continue to grow in terms of demography; to continue to open up to the world and learn things about Internet technology, modern society, etc.

And yet and the gulf between aspirations of the people and the government that they haveb becomes wider and wider, and nothing will happen. Logic will dictate to you that ultimately authoritarianism will not last. And we do see breakdowns.

Look at Pakistan in the past year or so. We thought that the story in Pakistan is about moderation versus extremism. This is what we try to market, and the Pakistanis said, “Wait a minute. That is not the story. The story is about freedom and rule of law.”

So we have the bizarre pictures on New York Times of policemen with long beards beating up on lawyers in suits. That’s the opposite of what we assumed who should be beating whom.

But the reality of it is that we will see more Pakistans happening. We cannot gauge it. We have to realize that in the short run, authoritarian regimes may serve short run security stability interests of the United States. But in the long run, at some point in time, authoritarianism will no longer be the solution, as we saw in Pakistan, will become itself the problem.

The dilemma for U.S. foreign policy is what we know is right morally; and what we know what should happen in the long run is one thing. And our short run needs are different. And our short run needs does not serve things that we know ought to be true in the long run. And we have never been able to bridge this gap.

In fact the [George W.] Bush administration was probably the first one which, at least at this level of rhetoric, tried to create a bridge between what is good for the Middle East in the long run and say, “Well that’s good also for the United States in the short run.” But it bungled the whole thing so abysmally that we’re back to the old way of thinking with a vengeance. Everybody says yes, in the long run we shall all live in the nirvana of democracy; but in the short run our friends are the dictators.

Recorded on: Dec 3, 2007