Nuance is for Sissies

If you think the main problem with the Bush administration is that its approach to the Middle East is too nuanced, you”ll love Mitt Romney. Here”s Shadi Hamid on last night”s debate:

One thing kind of bothered me. [Romney] was talking about the jihadist/terrorist threat, and listed Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Iran… and then the Muslim Brotherhood? Huh? The Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s and represents the leading opposition bloc in the Egyptian parliament (with 88 members). The group has publicly committed itself to the rules of the democratic game.

Anyway, it”s unfortunate that Romney did the standard Republican mistake of thinking that all Islamists are a monolithic terrorist threat, when there are clear, obvious distinctions within Islamism, between radical Islamists (those who operate outside the political system and use violence) and mainstream Islamists (those who operate within the system and renounce violence).

Right. The Muslim Brotherhood is a large, complex organization. Some of its radical wings may engage in various unsavory activities. But the bulk of the movement has renounced violent jihad and, in places like Egypt, made a point to participate in elections (for which they”ve earned the wrath of Ayman Al Zawahiri). Not only that, but they represent a broad swath of “mainstream” Islam. Lumping them in with Al Qaeda is a terrible idea. See, for instance, Marina Ottaway in TNR, or Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke”s recent look at the group in Foreign Affairs.

Even the Bush administration is starting to catch on–in the past few months, according to Newsweek, the State Department “cleared” at least one high-level contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. “That doesn”t mean we are embracing the group,” one official said. “It means we recognize that we have to listen to a range of voices.” Does Romney think that”s wrong? Should we just start blasting away at random? Do tell.

Update: See also Spencer, who notes that Romney seems to be under the impression that Sunni and Shia are working together to “cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate.” Basically, he has no idea what he”s talking about, which, I guess, makes him only slightly more qualified than Giuliani.