Arab Democracy Doesn't Always Go America's Way

"It's not an absolute disaster," said Haass, now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's important to remember that they did not get elected, they did not get their votes on the basis of destroying Israel so much as representing opposition to corruption [and] a generational change, [and that] they delivered social services and all that."

He suggested Hamas may even have leverage where past Palestinian leaders did not.

"There really wasn't much of a peace process to begin with," Haass said. "Israel didn't have a partner with the current Palestinians. They were too weak or unwilling to control things."

Gerges told ABC News Radio that political responsibility might change Hamas in ways the United States and Israel might like.

"We have to wait and see if the political process will have a moderating impact on Hamas," he said. "The jury's out there. I'd rather have Hamas inside the political process than underground."

'Islamists Are Going to Win'

But even if Hamas doesn't change, there might be validity in Bush's argument that democratically elected governments offer more stability than dictatorships. It's just that America must be ready when free elections don't go its way.

"People want to express their choice," Malka said. "Because the incumbent regimes in the Middle East have been so repressive and have failed miserably to deliver any of their promises and have stifled any freedom of expression, people will naturally choose an alternative. And the only viable alternative in the Arab world today are the Islamists. And we have to recognize that if we are going to promote democracy, more and more Islamists are going to win victories."

That may "not necessarily [be] the end of the world," Feldman said.

"In most of these countries, the best shot that democracy has is not for it to be seen as an American imposition," he added, "but as a universal form of government to be adapted, including Islamic traditions."

Still, some wonder if the Bush administration planned for the possibility of a Hamas victory in the Palestinian election -- or similar Islamist victories elsewhere.

"One point must be made clear," Gerges told ABCNEWS.com via e-mail. "The Bush administration does not possess a strategy to deal with Islamism. The political earthquake in Palestine caught administration officials napping."

ABC News Radio contributed to this report.

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