What Benefits Islamists?

by Patrick Appel

Danielle Pletka argues that "the truth is that our support for secular dictators does more for Islamists than democracy promotion ever did." Larison differs:

I have seen some variant of this several times over the last few days. It is such a brazen lie that I marvel at how frequently some have been saying it, and how few people have objected to it. U.S. support for secular authoritarian rulers doesn’t do very much for Islamists. It does focus Islamist political grievances on the U.S. as a patron of those governments, but that isn’t actually much of an advantage for them.

In Tunisia, which had what was in some respects the most repressive police state of all Arab authoritarian states, Islamists ceased to matter politically because the government suppressed them so severely. When the U.S. and France encouraged the Algerian government to ignore the results of the ’91 election, that didn’t help the Islamists in Algeria who were poised to take power, but instead triggered an awful civil war that resulted in the defeat of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the overall weakening of Islamist opposition to the government. Throughout all of this, as ugly as it was, the U.S. supported the Algerian government, and this was not exactly a boon for Algerian Islamists.