I can't say I'm that surprised by the Hamas victory in parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories. After all, this is a group who has capitalized on national unrest and oppression by quietly enacting major social services programs to win the hearts and minds of the people. The West (not just the United States, but Europe as well) has been woeful in this regard, and Hamas and other groups like it have picked up the slack. It's much to our detriment that our plan to remake the Middle East has been simply to roll out elections and leave it at that. This strategy has put a hardliner in control in Iran, a terrorist organization in Palestine, an Afghan parliament that includes warlords and former Taliban members (and a central government leader reduced to asking the Taliban leadership to engage in peace talks), no change at the top in allegedly corrupt elections in Egypt, and a Shiite theocratic republic in Iraq.
Winning hearts and minds is as fundamental to victory in this war against radical jihadism as anything else. We tried once before to win hearts and minds, in Vietnam, but our actions belied our words to such a degree that it was transparently just rhetoric. Now we seem to have dispensed with even the rhetoric. The quiet end to reconstruction funding in Iraq is an example. We never got any major reconstruction projects built to an acceptable level, the funding for these projects was quite blatantly stolen, and Iran is stepping into the breach, pledging to support Iraq reconstruction efforts with cash outlays.
When we made a major effort to help rebuild during the tsunami I thought we were finally on the right track. Then we lifted nary a finger for the catastrophic earthquake in Pakistan. I know it came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, but for chrissakes, national security money should have been diverted there. Because it would have been in the national security interests of the country. Our once-prominent position as the idealistic leader of the world has been decimated by human rights scandals and corruption. We can't expect to roll in to any country on Earth and say "We're the United States" and have the citizens follow us. We have to do it through actions. Otherwise you end up with Hamas winning elections. And by the way, that's not meddling in foreign affairs. It's providing context for our supposed spread of democracy.
I fear that the consequences for Israel will be grave. It seems very likely to me that the hardline Likudniks will return to power now, in a defiant show of force. The rhetoric will escalate, and the cease-fire will be in danger of breaking. It's a very difficult time for the Middle East (as if there's ever been a time of sunshine).