KRAUTHAMMER’S VERSION OF ‘FREEDOM’…. In his latest column, Charles Krauthammer boasts that “everyone and his cousin supports the ‘freedom agenda’” envisioned by George W. Bush, who dared to challenge those who assumed the Middle East is “uniquely allergic to democracy.” In reality, the so-called “freedom agenda” was a failed mess, and Bush’s credible detractors never argued the region was incapable of democracy.

But it’s worth appreciating Krauthammer’s vision of democratic reforms in, say, Egypt. The conservative columnist wants a U.S. policy based on “principles” that “ensure democracy for the long run,” just so long as his caveats are respected.

As the states of the Arab Middle East throw off decades of dictatorship, their democratic future faces a major threat from the new totalitarianism: Islamism. As in Soviet days, the threat is both internal and external […]

[J]ust as during the Cold War the United States helped keep European communist parties out of power (to see them ultimately wither away), it will be U.S. policy to oppose the inclusion of totalitarian parties — the Muslim Brotherhood or, for that matter, communists — in any government, whether provisional or elected, in newly liberated Arab states.

Oh, I see. The “freedom agenda,” intended to “ensure democracy” comes with fine print, imposed on foreign countries by the U.S., shaped by Charles Krauthammer’s worldview.

Michael Cohen highlights the underlying flaw in this approach.

Beyond the obvious question as to whether one can have democracy in the Arab world if one tells Islamists they need not apply — it’s worth remembering that this tension between democratic aspirations and ‘keeping Islamists out’ is precisely why Bush’s Freedom Agenda failed. The Bush Administration supported free and fair elections in Gaza, was shocked when the Palestinian people embraced an Islamist party (Hamas) and refused to recognize it — which effectively made clear the hypocrisy of our policy: we only wanted democracy in the Arab world if our guys won.

That is, of course, an untenable standard…. We can’t have it both ways — we can’t support democracy and then reject political Islam. So long as Islamist groups are willing to abide by the tenets of democracy and participate in free and fair elections we should welcome their inclusion. To do otherwise … well it wouldn’t be democratic.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.