The Worst Answer of Last Night’s Debate

The Worst Answer of Last Night’s Debate

I like Chris Dodd. I think he brings something to the table, and I was happy to hear him get fired up on education last night. Which is why it saddens me that Dodd also gave what was, in my view, the worst answer of last night”s debate. I haven”t seen anyone pick up on it yet, unfortunately. Here”s what Dodd said:

Be careful what you wish for. If there were totally free elections in many of the countries we”re talking about today, the Islamic Jihad or the Islamic Brotherhood would win 85 percent of the vote. That”s not a great outcome for us at this point either.

Where to begin. First of all, Islamic Jihad doesn”t participate in elections, and never has. They”re a terrorist group with no interest in politics. Dodd apparently isn”t aware of this pretty basic fact. Second, there is no group that goes by the name “Islamic Brotherhood.” It”s called the “Muslim Brotherhood.” Maybe I”m being a bit nitpicky, but it”s a bit worrying that someone who”s spent three decades in Congress doesn”t even know the correct name of the most influential opposition movement in the Middle East today, one that spans not one but several countries, including Egypt and Jordan, two of our closest regional allies. Thirdly, this is the first time I”ve ever heard someone predict that the Brotherhood would win 85% in free elections. This number is so wildly off the mark that Dodd may as well have picked the number out of a hat. Conservative estimates are 20-25%. The most they could probably get is 40-45% of the vote, and even that”s pushing it.

Those are factual problems. What”s worse, though, is the broader point Dodd is trying to make: We shouldn”t encourage free and fair elections in the Middle East, because it won”t be good for our interests. Sound familiar? Be careful what you wish for. Someone should have pushed Dodd and asked him if five decades of supporting brutal Arab dictators has been in our interest.

Lastly, Dodd does something which I find really annoying. Republicans tend to do it quite a bit, but Democrats occasionally fall into the trap as well. This is the habit of listing all Islamist groups as part of one monolithic threat and failing to make the any distinctions. To refer to Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood in the same sentence is mindboggling. The former is a fringe terrorist organization that has a relatively small following in Gaza. The latter is the strongest opposition party in Egypt with perhaps millions of members, supporters, and sympathizers. It is a group which renounced violence in the 1970s and has since committed itself to working within the democratic process. It currently has 88 members in parliament, by far the largest opposition bloc.

It”s really quite amazing, but in two short sentences, Dodd managed to get so many things wrong, and displayed a lack of even the most basic understanding about what is arguably the most important region in the world. Can we please have a president who understands the Middle East and the Muslim world?