This week President Bush outlined the American strategy for victory in Iraq. Aligned along political, security and economic tracks, the comprehensive strategy notes that “Our mission in Iraq is to win the war. Our troops will return home when that mission is complete.” In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we explore the meaning of that American “mission” in Iraq and its true possibilities. We pose the question: what exactly is our mission in Iraq? Have we, as some critics have argued, veered away from what our top priorities should be? Should spreading democracy in Iraq and in the Middle East, for instance, be a top priority? Or does such an objective undermine a higher goal? If so, what is that higher goal?
This is a crucial question because if there is a higher priority, many proponents of the Bush administration would argue that it is directly inter-linked with the need to spread freedom in the Middle East. In other words, these objectives are mutually inclusive and complementary. One will not succeed without the other.
To discuss these issues with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel:
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He prosecuted the Blind Sheik and his organization for seditious conspiracy in 1995;
Ron Dermer, the co-author of The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror;
Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served in infantry and intelligence units before becoming a Foreign Area Officer and a global strategic scout for the Pentagon. He has published three books on strategy and military affairs, as well as hundreds of columns for the New York Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and other publications. He is the author of the new book New Glory: Expanding America”s Global Supremacy;
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the Middle East Quarterly. He was previously an Iran and Iraq staff advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His new book is Eternal Iran: Chaos and Continuity.
Turi Munthe, the Associate Fellow of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Royal United Services Institute, and a consultant editor in Politics at IBTauris Publishers. Before joining RUSI, he founded and was Editor-in-Chief of the Beirut Review of Books. He has lived in Syria and Israel, and has travelled extensively in the region. In 2002, he published the best-selling Saddam Hussein Reader. He has written on politics, art, architecture and fiction – in French and English – and has lectured at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) on erotica;
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House”s Center for Religious Freedom. He has lectured worldwide and is the author or editor of 20 books on religion and politics, including Their Blood Cries Out and Islam at the Crossroads. His latest edited book is Radical Islam”s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari”a Law.
FP: Turi Munthe, Ron Dermer, Andrew McCarthy, Ralph Peters, Paul Marshall, and Michael Rubin, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Andrew McCarthy, let me begin with you. In some of our recent conversations, you have raised a concern that perhaps what we started fighting the Iraq war for has been undermined by, in your view, some new objectives that might be undermining our main interests. Tell us your thoughts.
McCarthy: As I recently argued an article for National Review Online, I do believe that there has been a profound mission shift and that it is undermining the primary national security goal of the war on terror.
The mission we started out on was both simple and daunting: the eradication of militant Islam and its state sponsors. That was the clear message of the Bush Doctrine announced by the president very soon after the 9/11 attacks: You are with us, or you are with the terrorists – and if you make the wrong choice, the day of reckoning is at hand. In a world of globally networked Islamists bent on killing as many Americans as they can, willing accomplice rogue states, and readily accessible weapons of mass destruction, any other position would be irresponsible.
Advancing freedom and building democracy are admirable goals, but they are decidedly subordinate to the principal goal of destroying terror networks and neutralizing their facilitators. They are also very long-term goals, and it is questionable whether they can actually be accomplished – particularly the installation of democracy in the Muslim world.
One thing is certain, however, and it is illustrated more and more with each passing day in Iraq. That is, if there is to be a real chance of establishing an enduring culture of freedom and democracy, the enemy has to be defeated first. That hasn’t happened yet, and there is increasing reason to doubt our resolve to finish the job (which is a long way from being finished). So shifting away from the primary goal of protecting American national security by crushing the terror network and, prematurely, toward the much less important aim of democratizing the Middle East actually disserves both objectives. Failing to subdue the enemy (and the terror masters in places like Iran and Syria) leaves the U.S. vulnerable and the prospects for a successful democratic transition highly unlikely.
Since the war moved to Iraq, (a) we’ve failed to make publicly what is a very compelling case that Saddam’s regime was a terror sponsor, and thus the public is not sold on what is actually a compelling connection between the war in Iraq and the war on terror; (b) we’ve made it very clear that our hope is to set Iraq on a democratic course and then withdraw our forces, even if that means leaving nests of terrorists operating in and around Iraq; (c) we’ve allowed Iran and Syria to commit acts of war against our forces with impunity, even though the primary mission of the war on terror was supposed to be to confront terror regimes that threaten Americans (not look the other way to tend to the delicate politics of a democracy-building project); and (d) we’ve actually conducted negotiations with terrorists – including Ansar al-Sunna, which has nevertheless continued its atrocities against American forces – even though, again, this is in direct contradiction to the moral and strategic coherence of the Bush Doctrine, which recognized plainly that our enemies are incorrigible. For my money, none of these things would have been conceivable in the months right after 9/11.
FP: Mr. Marshall, what do you think of Andrew McCarthy’s point that we may be undermining the primary national security goal of destroying the terror networks by being distracted by focusing too much, and perhaps too early, on building democracy?
On the one hand, it obviously doesn’t make sense if we use our resources to build democracy at the expense of killing terrorists who are wreaking havoc and mayhem. If we are planning to build a bridge, it makes sense that we get rid of terrorists who have dedicated their lives to blowing up the potential bridge before we start building it. And if we have to make a choice between hammering nails into the bridge or searching for the people who are plotting to blow it up, it obviously makes sense to do the latter first.
But what if both can be done at the same time? And what if finishing the bridge will mean ridding the enemy’s potential to destroy it?
Terrorism is bred in totalitarian structures. It cannot find oxygen in liberal and democratic environments. Sharansky has made this point effectively: the Achilles heel of our enemy is freedom. So in some respects, are we not killing the enemy by building democracy?
I guess it depends what resources we have and whether we should — or can — do these things at the same time.
Mr. Marshall, what do you make of this dilemma, if it is a dilemma?
Marshall: We clearly have to do both. As of April 2003, Iraq did not have a government of any kind apart from the occupying authorities and this position was politically unsustainable. So we had to help create a government (as well as almost everything else in Iraq since it had almost no functioning institutions except for tribal and religious ones). The centrifugal forces released by democratic openness may tear the country apart but that would be true of any governmental arrangement in Iraq: all would be strongly contested.
Apart from its benefits if it succeeds, democracy also gives Iraqis something to be proud of, something they desperately need. They showed great courage and commitment in the face of believable death threats when they, like the Afghans, turned out to vote at rates exceeding those in U.S. elections. Sunni rejectionists also now face the dilemma that, if they want to defeat the constitution in the October 15 referendum, then they will have to turn out and vote in the process, a choice that has divided them.
The two things are now intertwined. Unless the terrorists are defeated or their depredations sharply reduced, any democratic advances will be destroyed. This is not only because Iraqis are fed up with being slaughtered by Zarqawi and his ilk, but because terrorism is a lever in political negotiations, notably over the constitution. Sunni negotiators felt they could reject compromises over federalism because, even if they do not support terrorism, they can point to it as a reason why their demands must be met.
FP: Mr. Munthe?
Munthe: What other priorities might the US have in Iraq, other than trying to aid and abet the democratization process? Securing oil resources? Neutralizing violent elements in Iraqi society which may or may not have fallen under the spell of al-Qaeda-type ideologies? Draining the human resource pools of potential terrorist agitators?
All of these goals are advanced by establishing democracy in the country, and only advancing the democratic cause can achieve (or pave the way towards achieving) those goals.
The US has only three other alternatives in Iraq.
1. Dedicate its 150,000-odd force to chasing Zarqawi and his ilk around the labyrinthine rabbit warren that is Iraq”s underground network, before turning on Iran and Syria (and why not Saudi Arabia) in the same style.
2. Learn from its British predecessors and install a puppet-autocrat (Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan might suit).
3. Leave immediately.
Each of those three scenarios, I believe, only exacerbates the threat of terrorism.
The radicalism of Bush”s mission in the Middle East stems from what I believe is a profound truth: that the greatest threat to global peace from the region lies in
its autocracy. Democracy-promotion in the region is a historic reversal of 60 years of profoundly counter-productive policy, which saw successive US administrations support pliable dictators over the wishes of their people.
Global terrorism today is one of many manifestations of civil war within the Arab world. That terrorism is also directed at the West because the West (and the US
in particular) is rightly perceived to be implicated. The Wolfowitzian call to democracy radically inverts that paradigm. The West will save itself much terrorist
wrath by convincing the people of the Middle East it stands with them: promoting the cause of democracy and calling Arab autocrats to account (in Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, the Gulf states and elsewhere, as Condi has done) is part of that process.
As for Iraq, I believe we must make absolutely clear what we mean by “terrorists” there. Zarqawi is NOT the insurgency. Insurgents Iraq-wide hell-bent on derailing the democratic process in that country represent direct terror threats to the Iraqi state and not to US homeland security. The direct threat to Western security lies in the broader issue of Iraqi stability: stability which will only ever come close to being guaranteed through democracy. Yes, we must hammer the insurgency with everything we have (primarily the political means at our disposal), but all for the greater goal of democratization.
Peters: I find this an interesting discussion, overall, but definitely tilt to the “big picture” view. In the military, you learn quickly that, if you focus only on today”s fight, today”s fight will turn into tomorrow”s fight, ad infinitum. You must fight the enemy in front of you and simultaneously peer into, plan and prepare for the future. Thus, in Iraq, our immediate military focus in on killing as many international terrorists as possible–defeating them–while working with Iraqi forces (who are growing, albeit slowly, in competence–this is harder than pundits tend to assume) to contain, isolate and discourage the Sunni-rejectionist insurgency.
Our greater goal, however, isn”t to create an American (or British) style democracy in Iraq–we can”t do that–but to give the disparate peoples of Iraq their own chance to create a variant of democracy that answers their needs. That is an undertaking of enormous scope and for enormous stakes; to date, the price we have paid, in every respect, has been remarkably low.
The prophets of doom have been wrong consistently (but, if you predict rain day after day without cease, it”ll rain eventually and you can leap up and cry, “I told you so!”). Iraq has a good chance to become a much better Iraq than we found it–not Vermont, but a better Iraq. That”s the goal and it involves a sense of realism foreign to our irresponsible media and insular political class.
Anyway, the roots of the terror threatening our national security go very deep. In one sense, the seed-corn has been more than two centuries of abysmal Muslim failure vis-à-vis the West. In another sense, terror is rooted in the accelerating collapse of Middle Eastern civilization over the past fifty years (while, during the Cold War, we supported Middle Eastern autocrats who abused their populations–our one great sin in the region). Finally–and all of these points are related, of course–both of our political parties and successive administrations ignored the slow-roll jihad sponsored by the Saudis and their ilk to turn the Muslim world into a Wahabi mental and moral prison. Yes, there are many other factors involved, from the thoughtlessness of our support for the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan to misspent oil wealth (a shopping mall does not a civilization make), but for me the issues are Muslim civilizational failure and the corresponding turn to religious exclusivism, to a belief that blames and absolves.
As another participant noted, this is an infernally complicated matter that even an exchange such as this can only illuminate in part, but, to me, what we”re really trying to do in Iraq–beyond killing terrorists, a worthy and necessary endeavor in itself–is to give the Arabs (and the more-advanced Kurds) a chance to create a Middle-Eastern success story.
Behind all the shrillness and topical hostility, the truth is that Arabs are terrified of the future, painfully aware of their collective failure, and afraid that they cannot build an even marginally competitive rule-of-law semi-democratic state that mostly, kinda-sorta works half-way well part of the time.
A 51% success in Iraq would be a huge boosts for the peoples of the Arab and contiguous Muslim world (although a threat to their calcified leaders, but that”s another discussion). The Arabs need a win. On one level, it”s that simple. And if the win is a terrorist victory in the wake of an ill-judged American withdrawal from Iraq, the penalty for us, as well as for Arabs, would be immeasurably severe. If, however, a semi-functional rule-of-law market democracy were to come together from Iraq“s admittedly ill-fitting parts, it truly would serve as a beacon for the rest of the Middle East. The terrorists realize it, so they”re fighting without restraint to prevent our desired result from coming to fruition. Other regional leaders realize it, so they, too, do what they can to stymie a democratic Iraq. This is a titanic struggle, far greater than it seems–and the stakes are higher than in any conflict in which we have engaged since the Second World War.
Will Iraq work? We don”t know. The Iraqis don”t know. The constitutional referendum could further divide the country–or convince Sunni Arabs that democracy works for them, too. Will Iraq remain whole? We don”t know that, either (although I would have liked to see it broken up immediately after the fall of Baghdad, but the neo-cons had neither the vision nor the courage for so bold a step). Will Iranian influence wax or wane? Don”t know. Will fundamentalism pervade the Shi”a and, possibly, the Sunni-Arab provinces of Iraq? Don”t know. Can we stop Iranian and Syrian subversion and support for terror? Not with our current focus on minimalist strategy. But, given how badly the Bush administration botched the execution of the undeniably great endeavor they undertook, we should be astonished that Iraq“s going as well as it is.
Both the prophets of doom and the confidence men have no basis for their claims of utter failure or success the day after tomorrow. It isn”t even half-time in the Middle East. The future is up for grabs. We can”t win the game by ourselves–but if we”re not on the field playing along, we can”t achieve anything. We cannot simply had the game (and the entire league) to our enemies. We may not like it–and we don”t–but we have no choice but to remain engaged in the Middle East for now (many thanks to both Democrats and Republicans for thirty years of failure to take a national energy policy seriously). In the end, Arabs and other regional populations will have to win the game for themselves. But if we don”t help–to the extent of our capabilities–we hand the game to the forces of darkness. And they are legion.
Iraq may disappoint us in the end. But even if it does, the struggle was indispensable. We had to try, belatedly, to foster constructive change in the region. Meanwhile, I remain soberly optimistic that the long-term outcome will favor us, not the forces of terror and reaction. But the near-term is going to continue to look ugly (especially given the biased and unforgivably selective reporting currently in vogue).
Despair is the enemy of achievement of any kind. At present, our enemies are closer to despair than we are, yet we refuse to see it.
Rubin: I agree with Andrew on his points a, c, and d. The U.S. mission has been muddled and articulated poorly from the start. With regard to point b, I would agree that to embrace democratization as the only end goal without ridding the country of terror would be counter to U.S. national security and would be a betrayal of the Iraqi people.
I do not see democratization and the war against terror as mutually exclusive, though. When Iraqis go to the polls, they vote for those with the best security plan. They threw out Ayad Allawi both because his promises of better security proved hollow. If we respected Iraqi democracy, and did not obstruct the ability of Iraqis to pursue their popular de-Baathification program, for example, we would not suffer as greatly from infiltration in the reconstituted Iraqi security services. Mosul is a no-go area because of misguided and naïve reconciliation policies imposed by senior U.S. military officials. Likewise, the Fallujah Brigade undercut security and augmented terrorism.
Iraqis can balance the civil liberties of democracy with the need for security, just as Americans have throughout U.S. history. Abandoning—or delaying—the push for democracy will undercut the U.S. mission. Fear of abandonment is strong in Iraq. The Kurds feel we betrayed them in 1975, and the Shi‘ites in 1991. Any inkling that we may sacrifice democratization for other interests will backfire. Iran will capitalize by declaring to the Shi‘ites that they can provide a protecting embrace. Because Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared democracy the enemy in a January 2005 video, any step back will embolden terrorists who will claim a victory.
Dermer: Let me first say that I share my co-author Natan Sharansky”s view that there is no such thing as an undemocratic culture. There are no doubt cultures which lend themselves more readily, for a variety of reasons, to building democratic institutions. But the yearning for freedom, or I should say the desire not to live in fear, is universal. The suggestion that Muslims or Arabs cannot be democratic because of their culture is not only racist, it is simply foolish. It runs counter to a history in which so many different cultures and civilizations have embraced democratic change. The skeptics will surely say that the Arabs are different. They are not.
The Bush administration has given democracy a chance to succeed in Iraq because it has chosen not merely to replace one tyrant with another but also to embark on the very difficult road of helping Iraqis build a free society. Your question suggests that these goals are mutually exclusive. I disagree.
I see the Bush Doctrine as having two parts, both of which are critical to protecting and advancing America”s national interest. The first, as Mr. McCarthy rights points out, is the decision to target state sponsors of terrorism. The critical sentence of Bush”s first term was his statement nine days after the terror attack that America would make no distinction between the terrorists and the regimes that harbor them. This shifted counter-terrorism policy from a criminal justice problem which sought to prosecute individuals into a military problem which seeks to destroy or deter regimes. This strategy is sound because there is simply no international terrorism without state support. The idea that a few guys with cell phones living in a cave will terrorize the world is ridiculous. Terror organizations need sovereign territory where they are free to indoctrinate and train their recruits, hatch their plots, launder the finances, operate under diplomatic cover, etc. Before 9/11, the scaffold of international terror was comprised primarily of seven or eight states. Since 9/11, America has destroyed two of those regimes, deterred another (Libya) and forced a fourth (Syria) to retreat (with considerable help from the Lebanese).
But the second part of the Bush Doctrine, the need to promote democracy, is no less important for winning the war on terror In what I think is the most important sentence of his second term, Bush argued in his inaugural address that the survival of liberty at home depends on the success of liberty abroad. What that meant to me is that the Bush administration was championing democracy not because it is a laudable goal but rather because it sees this goal as essential to protecting America“s security. Non-democratic regimes in the Middle East are the reason for that region”s instability and the reason why its sons have become pawns of an ascendant Islamic fanaticism that seeks to destroy Western civilization.
If U.S. policy in the region is to be faulted, it is not for championing the Bush Doctrine but rather for failing to apply that doctrine rigorously enough (see Saudi Arabia, Palestinian territories, Egypt, etc.).
Still, with all the problems, the Iraqi democratic experiment is moving forward. To get a sense of the challenge of building a democratic Iraq today, imagine a post-WWII Japan (without a sense of utter defeat among its population) savaged by the attacks of remnants of the Imperial regime, surrounded by regimes willing to send thousands of killers to undermine democracy in Japan, and an international terror movement knowing that a democratic Japan would deal it a fatal blow.
That the democratic experiment in Iraq is still moving forward is a credit to the determination of an American president, the bravery and professionalism of America”s troops and the courage of Iraqis who earlier this year spit — both literally and figuratively — on the eviscerated bodies of suicide bombers outside a polling station, and since then have refused to allow their country to descend into anarchy and chaos despite an horrific and almost daily carnage. These Iraqis will soon vote for a democratic Iraq government and a better future.
True, the fact that a democratic Iraq is possible does not make it inevitable. There are many things that can still go wrong. But with patience and fortitude, Iraq can be free, the region can move in a new direction and America and the world will be safer because of it.
As for the arguments over the controversies surrounding the Iraqi constitution, I think Sharansky said it best when he recently told me how ironic it was that the same people who argue that “we can”t impose democracy” on Iraq seem intent on imposing nothing less than American democracy there.
McCarthy: In a free-wheeling conversation, one’s positions tend to get bumper-stickered as the discussion winds along. I never said that crushing terrorism and growing democracy are mutually exclusive. They are mutually supportive and capable of being pursued at the same time. My point is that they are neither equally urgent nor, in a temporal sense, equally attainable. What I have found occasionally wrong-headed about U.S. foreign policy – which, by the way, is a policy I support – is, first, that we have often treated the less urgent goal as surpassing the more urgent one in importance; and, second, that the two goals have been treated as if they could be reached satisfactorily in roughly the same time frame.
While thinking both are important, I am more immediately concerned about the security of the United States than I am about global political arrangements. In this regard, I believe it is lofty but hyperbolic to have asserted, as Mr. Dermer cites the President as having done, that “the survival of liberty at home depends on the success of liberty abroad[,]” and that the international spread of democracy is “essential to protecting America’s security.” We shall surely survive whether the Islamic world democratizes or not – however desirable it may be that the Islamic world democratizes. Further, democracy in some parts of it right now would sweep jihadists into power, an outcome that, far from being “essential” to our security would affirmatively endanger us.
It is simply a fact that it is of more consequence to American national security that as many terrorists are killed or captured as possible than that Iraq becomes a functioning democracy (or, frankly, that it remains “Iraq” as we currently know it). That does not mean we should not strive to lay the groundwork for the people of Iraq – and, to the extent we can influence it, of the greater Islamic world – to exercise self-determination and, hopefully, to recognize that real democracy is the best guarantor of self-determination. But that is a subordinate and less certain goal than defeating the enemy we finally confronted after 9/11.
On the matter of its being less certain, by the way, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Dermer’s treatment of democracy and freedom as if they were synonyms – although, as I shall stress at the end of my remarks, I am quite in agreement with what I take to be the implication of his argument, namely, that when we talk about spreading democracy we are talking about the American version, which assumes freedom.
But, that said, a system that would have brought Islamists to power by free elections in Algeria in 1991, or that may bring them to power in Gaza in 2005, might be democratic but it would surely not further freedom. Subjects of a benign monarchy, on the other hand, might have more day-to-day freedom than we do but be undemocratic. As a general guideline, the United States should surely promote self-determination. But it makes little sense to me to pretend that everyone’s self-determination is in America’s interests. If, for example, there were truly free elections in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood won, do people really think that would be better for us and for the world than Mubarak with all his warts?
I also must take issue with the suggestion that it is somehow “racist” or “foolish” to observe – humbly, and without presuming to have the final answer – that a culture which has not produced democracies as a matter of course over many centuries (and particularly over the last three centuries, when democracy has spread elsewhere) might be “undemocratic.” It is conceivable, moreover, that an undemocratic culture, if free, might choose democracy. But it also might not. If, for example, the Shiites in Southern Iraq eventually split off from the Sunnis and Kurds, and either form their own country or marry up in some form with Iran, they will have determined their own fate but the resulting sharia state would not be a democracy recognizable to us. And it is noteworthy that the most successful democracy in the Muslim world has been Turkey – the nation that most rigorously walled Islamic culture out of political life.
Some of my colleagues try to compensate for this problem by advancing the increasingly familiar refrain that the goal in Iraq is not to create a western style democracy but what is described by Mr. Peters (with whom I generally agree, but not in this particular case) as a “variant of democracy that answers their needs.” For my money, this just repositions the goal line to avoid conceding that Iraq and other authoritarian states are unlikely to reach the actual goal line connoted by our conception of democracy. The Iranians, for example, have settled on a variant of democracy that answers their needs – but I doubt anyone in this discussion would regard it as a real democracy.
Real democracy – a commitment not merely to self-determination but to live as a political community, to accept electoral defeat and the leadership of those whose policies we oppose, to the rule of law, and to the inviolability of basic civil rights – is itself a culture. It is one we must promote, but with our eyes open about what a dramatic evolution it is and how very long it may take to achieve in a meaningful way. My alarm about our democracy promotion efforts is based not on doubts about democracy but on a deep and abiding respect for it. I worry that we expect to reap the harvest without the full sacrifice that tending to the soil demands. There’s a lot more to this than elections and constitutions.
FP: Thank you Mr. McCarthy. Members of the panel, I would like you to deal with four of the crucial themes that Mr. McCarthy has raised:
 “We shall surely survive whether the Islamic world democratizes or not – however desirable it may be that the Islamic world democratizes. “
But isn’t the whole point that we may not survive, in the sense that if we do not take the initiative of democratizing the Islamic world, that the terrorists that breed in
the tyranny within it will wage war on us? The enemy might destroy us (or cause a hell of a lot of damage, i.e. an eventual WMD attack etc.) unless we cut off its oxygen – which is the despotism that lingers in its own societies.
 “Further, democracy in some parts of it right now would sweep jihadists into power, an outcome that, far from being “essential” to our security would affirmatively endanger us.”
Isn’t Mr. McCarthy right that democracy too quickly imposed in some undemocratic cultures may create a “one man, one vote, one time” scenario in which even worse elements will come to power? (i.e. Osama-worshippers rather than the Saudi elite that presently rules Saudi Arabia)
 “It is conceivable, moreover, that an undemocratic culture, if free, might choose democracy. But it also might not.”
Is it really wrong to suggest that undemocratic cultures exist and that the people within them might not necessarily want to be free? Look at the yearning for Stalin in many parts of Russia. And what if a majority of Muslims in an Islamic society really believe that humans’ will must be submitted to Sharia and that the concepts in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution are blasphemy? Is it really wrong to suggest they might form an “undemocratic” culture?
 “The Iranians, for example, have settled on a variant of democracy that answers their needs – but I doubt anyone in this discussion would regard it as a real democracy.”
I am not sure if I misunderstand something in this sentence, but I don’t think Iranians have settled on any kind of a “variant of democracy” that answers any kind of their “needs.” What is happening in Iran is that a vicious and brutal death-cult is tyrannically oppressing its people. Am I missing something here?
Marshall: Much of our controversy revolves around what we mean by ‘democracy.’ I think it unfortunate if understandable that that has become the U.S.’s operative word in foreign policy. What we really want are free societies, genuine republics—regimes that include what Andrew described as “Real democracy – a commitment not merely to self-determination but to live as a political community, to accept electoral defeat and the leadership of those whose policies we oppose, to the rule of law, and to the inviolability of basic civil rights.” After all, the U.S. Constitution, as other constitutions, is a mechanism to express the will of the people, while also channeling that will and in some cases limiting it—that’s what, inter alia, bills of rights and federalism do.
Of course, when many people use the word ‘democracy they mean it to include a full panoply of genuine and robust constitutional guarantees, but then it is all too easy to let the term slide into simply rule by majorities or electoral success. If that was the only standard then Nazi Germany would qualify.
This also means that the type of regimes we want can be defined by sets of actually functioning electoral and constitutional rules. (Though, of course, such rules do not guarantee their own success).
This has two implications. First, we should not talk about ‘American style vs Iraqi-style’ democracy. While there will of course be variations from country to country, especially in federal type structures, a country either has such functioning rules, or half functioning rules, or it does not. While there are cultural factors in the way of achieving such a regime, the criteria themselves are not cultural.
Secondly, if the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas takes power by dint of electoral success, then we should not applaud it as genuine democracy. They will institute highly repressive Islamist regimes, with the stated goal of opposing the United States, and civilization generally. We may decide not to vigorously oppose such electoral results, but they will be no genuine victory for freedom, any more than if in their first post WWII elections the Germans had voted to bring the Nazis back in.
This is one of my great fears currently in Iraq. The draft constitution gives an undefined “Islam” constitutional authority, a practice shared by only about one third of the Muslim majority countries in the world. More worryingly, it places Sharia judges on the Supreme court—a practice followed by only Iran, Afghanistan, and, in its own fashion, Saudi Arabia. Not happy company. America must use its influence in Iraq to limit these extreme Sharia influences.
The United States will probably survive whether the Islamic world democratizes or not. But the question is at what cost to us. The threat of nuclear terrorism, abroad, or on our own shores, will be much higher, and we will have a wider set of enemies pushing an ideology hostile to us and our friends. States committed to an Islamist ideology are very likely to become our enemies, since a central part of that ideology is to extend the rule of the Caliphate and their version of Sharia law over the world.
There is no easy way out of the democratization fix, but it will help if we are clear about what sort of democracy we want. The key thing in, for example, Egypt, is building institutions of freedom that allow the long repressed alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood to flourish. Without that, simple electoral mechanisms are hollow.
Munthe: If we assume that the world is made up of essential, unchanging and innately conflicting value systems or civilizations, each intent on establishing or maintaining dominance over each other, then the necessary correlative is that, yes, we are at war with Islam (as proponents of this argument imply when they talk about the undemocratic, anti-freedom culture in the Arab world.) If, however, we are able to see culture as ever-shifting, and to see politics as the expression of that ever-shifting culture, there’s a chance the West can avoid taking on a billion Muslims head-to-head.
Jamie seems intent on reminding us that we’re happier living under Bush than we would be under bin Laden. Who amongst us would disagree? The point, however, is that so would most of the Middle East (just look at green card requests from the region). Cultures change.
It seems to me that Mr. McCarthy is flat-out wrong when he says that Turkey is the most successful democracy in the region because it is the one “that most rigorously walled Islamic culture out of political life.” Turkey’s democratic history is nasty, brutish and short – typified by army coups rather than electoral freedom. It has only come into its own in the last few years, under a self-confessed Islamist leader in the shape of Erdogan, who stood not only against the army but against the entire cultural edifice of the ‘elders’ of Turkish politicking. That he should, after various legal attempts to bar him, have finally assumed power is proof of how far Turkey has finally come. Turkey is finally becoming a nation able to rationalize all its varying political movements into a single polity: a polity, let’s remind ourselves, that under an Islamist leader both wants to integrate Europe and maintains its political and military alliance with Israel. Turkey has finally become democratic precisely because it has allowed Islam into political discourse.
I would like to propose that we look at Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood as expressions of political movements rather than civilizational ones. Seen in that light, it seems to me we should rather welcome their participation in democratic politics since participation requires acceptance of all those characteristics of democracy Mr. McCarthy outlines.
Turkey is the model for the region. Across the Middle East, copycat political parties have emerged aping the slogans and the policy recommendations of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party – Morocco’s has even kept the name. And older parties, like the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, have also shifted closer to Erdogan’s principles.
Democracy is a transformative process; it engenders itself. I would infinitely prefer the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power in Egypt on the back of elections as in Turkey rather than on the back of revolution as in Iran. And, contrary to Mr. McCarthy, I do believe the Muslim Brotherhood running Egypt would be more advantageous to Western interests than Mubarak doing so. Firstly, nothing tarnishes political ideology as much as the practice of politics – the ruling party in a democracy has to moderate in both senses of the term. And secondly, because a MB government come to power through democratic mechanisms would finally allow Egypt to establish the basis for a durable ‘nativist’ form of democracy, reconciling its various cultural strands, and showing the way to other countries in the region.
There is nothing inherently antipathetic between the West and the Middle East: as the civil relationship between a devout Turkish leader and a born-again US president testifies to. There is similarly nothing essential about Iraqi culture that makes it anti-democratic. Yes, democracy takes time to learn, but Iraqis (like all Middle Easterners) are ready to. Hammering supposed terrorists may have immediate Nintendo-like appeal, but its effects are negative without the broader political project Bush is now locked into bringing about.
FP: Well, since Turkey is being raised in our discussion, I thought I would point out the recent survey held by a university in Turkey that indicates almost 40% of those surveyed, most of them men, support “honor” killing of women. Thirty seven per cent said that death is the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery. Twenty one percent said that her nose or ears should be cut off.
I would like to ask the panel what they think the significance is of these views held by such a large portion of the Turkish population in our 21st Century.
Mr. Munthe, let me come back to you for a moment. With all due respect, I am a bit confused by your suggestion that we welcome Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in democratic politics. Isn”t this like suggesting that we should do the same for Nazis or for the KKK?
Also, Mr. Munthe, you suggest that “the Muslim Brotherhood running Egypt would be more advantageous to Western interests than Mubarak doing so.” Well, let’s not forget a little ingredient: the Egyptian people. Being enslaved and tortured by vicious tyrants might not be very advantageous to them.
Munthe: On the issue of Turkey: Let’s first be clear that honor killing is a cultural custom not a tenet of Islam. And if we’re shocked by that, and want to proselytise, then what better way of attacking the practice than by following the EU on this: integrate, rather than exclude. As the BBC article you cite explains, honor killings are being prosecuted in Turkey precisely because the EU has opened itself up to Turkey.
As for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, you’re using the wrong analogy. The Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate Islamist social and political movement. It has, as you know, rejected violence in all forms. Hamas is a militant movement (as is Fatah, now), support for which is as strong amongst non-Islamist Palestinians as it is amongst arch-extremists.
Hamas has political support in the Territories (for its welfare and militant activities), not ideological support. If the Muslim Brotherhood were, through a vote, to come to power in Egypt, it would – given the highly fractured nature of Egyptian politics – have to moderate its ideological position to attempt to represent the broadest span of the Egyptian people.
Were Hamas to come to power in the Territories, it would have to shed much of its ideology to stay in tune with its supporters. The paradigm here, you’ll be surprised to hear, is Hizballah in Lebanon. What was once a pure and simple fighting organisation has, with several seats in the Lebanese parliament, become a mainstream political force. That transformation is being achieved at the direct expense of its ideological fervour.
And on the case of the poor Egyptians, Jamie, I’m not sure if you’re aware of how patronising you’re being. If Egyptians vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, which would be the only reason for them coming to power, then would you cancel their vote on the basis that they don’t understand that the government they would have chosen is in fact bad for them? Are you saying you can’t trust Egyptians to vote for what’s good for them? Sounds a little like the cuddly side of segregationism.
FP: Well, sir, you have sidestepped the main point in my question about honor killings. To dismiss the evidence by saying that honor killings are not Islamic doesn”t exactly explain why they”re so popular in enlightened moderate democratic Turkey.
I am not sure what is so disingenuous about making analogies between Nazis and the KKK and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. I’m not too confident about how tolerant and peace-loving Hamas and the MB would be upon achieving power. Would Jews and religious minorities flourish under their reign? Would women who want to live in equality and who feel like pursuing their rights — including the right of sexual self-determination – enjoy a golden age of liberty and self-realization under their reign?
I am also not too sure what a “moderate” Islamist movement means exactly. Is this sort of like a “moderate” Nazi movement?
Hamas, like Hezbollah, obviously wouldn”t change its overall goals if it came to power. It would only change its means of getting to power. The Hamas Charter is quite a document. Have you read it? You know what it says about Israel right? Would the destruction of Israel be more “moderate” if Hamas achieves power through elections rather than if it achieves it through violent revolution? Did it matter that Hitler was democratically elected?
In terms of the Muslim Brotherhood “rejecting” violence, all I can say is: I don’t care. Its very existence is violence. It supports a Sharia state for Egypt. If that is achieved we’ll see all sorts of violence, with women, minorities and dissidents first in line as victims.
Tyrants can capture power in all kinds of deceptive ways. Would I be being “patronizing” by suggesting that the German people might have made a little mistake by electing Hitler in 1933? Yes, he didn’t get a “majority,” but enough voted for him to allow him to gain office. The Nazis went through the democratic process, did they moderate?
There can be one vote one time by a despotic force that camouflages its true agenda and then establishes a vicious tyranny over a people. Did the Nazis have another election after 1933?
So, when we speak of a brutal group running a country being “advantageous” to Western interests, we might keep in mind whether it is advantageous to the people who will suffer under it.
Peters: We must be wary of generalizing about all of humanity, whether insisting that “everybody longs for freedom (or democracy)” or the contrary. We live in an age of division, during which we are learning the disheartening lesson that some individuals, cultures and entire civilizations cope better with freedom than others. There is the phenomenon of the inherited experience of political liberty, but the cultural factors cut far deeper even than that.
For example, Islam, both as written and as generally practiced, is, as our friend Mr. Zarqawi and his ilk gladly point out, not a democratic system. Muslim societies have an uphill struggle in reconciling a supremely prescriptive faith with political and social freedom. But even more essentially, some human beings prefer the security of the cell to the risks of liberty. Freedom may be attractive to many, but it is unquestionably terrifying to some–and we do not yet know the relative proportions of humanity that fall into each camp (or somewhere in between).
In this age of frenetic, bewildering change, many in traditional societies may well disappoint us by opting for security, even should that mean oppression and poverty, over the terrors of choice and the responsibilities of liberty (one is tempted to place the continental Europeans in this group, but that”s another debate.)
Tyrannical regimes did not survive for millennia by accident. Humans acquiesced, and not all were unhappy. How many humans will survive the initial dislocations of democracy without longing for the “safety” of the old regime? I don”t know the answer, although I”m reasonably optimistic for the long haul. But, in the short run, we may be disappointed frequently. Fear of the unknown or the new is very powerful. Men flee back to what they know.
In Iraq, we are not merely asking people to change their government. We are asking them to alter a civilization. Given the magnitude of such an effort, we should not be daunted that it is taking more than a few months. Iraq continues to give us reasons to hope–as long as our hopes are rational. For all of the countless errors made and all of the efforts of our enemies, the thing keeps grinding forward. But much more time is required. The Iraqis must learn by doing.
We shall learn a great deal about the true desires of humankind in the coming decades. And yes, many Middle-Eastern elections will initially return vile parties and persons to power. But, as with Chavez in Venezuela, that”s democracy, too. We must accept outcomes we don”t like. And there will be plenty.
Rubin: I accept Andrew’s point that U.S. policymakers have not treated defeat of terrorism as an urgent enough priority in Iraq. No “bumper-stickerization” intended. Indeed, while I agree with Ron about the necessity of democratization and do not accept that Iraqis or any other culture is incapable of democracy, I would argue that the U.S. embassy’s desire to embrace all groups into the democratic process has backfired. Baathists and Islamists interpret compromise and concession as weakness to exploit.
I also agree that unchecked democratization can backfire for the simple reason that not everyone that embraces the rhetoric of democratization is sincere. Ayatollah Khomeini promised Islamic democracy prior to launching a cultural revolution that killed thousands. While mayor of Istanbul, current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an famously compared democracy to a streetcar—you ride it as far as you need and then get off. Accountability and sincerity matter. It is ironic that while the U.S. State Department is rightly cynical about the commitment to reform by dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or President Ben Ali in Tunisia, that diplomats are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Now, to the points crystallized by our moderator:
 We will not survive a failure by the Islamic world to democratize. Brent Scowcroft may think his brand of realism won 50 years of peace; he is wrong. And he ignores countless wars and the growth of radicalism under his watch. His brand of realism has done irreparable harm to the reputation of the United States and the cynical policies he implemented continue to feed to propaganda of radical regimes. The world is becoming more dangerous. The Saudi-funded radicalization of the Islamic world is the greatest impediment to the tolerance upon which successful democratization depends.
 I agree that democratization might sweep jihadists into power. But the key is ensuring that democratization does not mean one man, one vote, one time. If an elected government threatens U.S. security or kills Americans, then let the fist of U.S. military might come down upon that government. Democracy does not mean that Washington cannot hold its adversaries accountable for their elected government’s actions.
 Given the opportunity, cultures will choose democracy. Desire for freedom is a universal value.
With regard to Turi’s points, I would share his caution about Turkey. As in South Korea, the development of democracy in Turkey has been a long process. The Turkish military, ironically, has been its guarantor, protecting it from undemocratic forces while it incubated. Ironically, Erdo?an’s government may represent the greatest threat to Turkish democracy. He seems inclined to implement his streetcar metaphor. His willingness to ignore the Turkish Supreme Court in its repeated rulings against his government (for example, in the Kent Bank case) is dangerous. His decision to lower the mandatory retirement age of public servants so that he can replace 4,000 out of 9,000 secular judges with party apparatchiks and more Islamist officials is dangerous. Erdo?an’s actions illustrate the danger to democracy of those who do not accept the basic principle of rule-of-law.
The Iraqi referendum? I won’t obfuscate the issue. The Bush administration has accomplished a great deal when more than 70 percent of those voting endorse compromise. We will see where it leads. I worry about the willingness of U.S. officials to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Dermer: I think it’s worth repeating Mr. Marshall’s observation that much of our controversy revolves about what we mean by the term “democracy.” All too often, critics of policies promoting democracy create a straw man by defining democracy as elections. But to do so is to present a phoney argument. Instead of pointing out the dangers of democracy, such critics are in fact pointing out the dangers of holding elections in fear societies – of which there are many.
Natan Sharansky and I were very clear in our book about what democracy promotion means. It means helping to build societies where people can walk into the town square and say what they want without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, and helping these societies build the institutions which are necessary to protect that freedom (This freedom was not present in Algeria in 1991 nor is it present, for example, in the Palestinian territories today). That is why elections are not a substitute for democracy and why they should whenever feasible be held only after the process of building a free society is well underway. Had federal elections been held immediately in post-war Germany, the Nazi party would have won. But after a four-year hiatus from the poison of state-sponsored Nazi propaganda and four years of exposure to a free society, sentiment within Germany changed quickly.
Moreover, by limiting democracy to elections, we dig ourselves into the trap of believing the free world must accept the legitimacy of regimes that are inherently anti-democratic. To be considered democratic, a government must not only come to power democratically, it must also preserve a basic democratic order, especially the right of dissent.
Jamie and Michael are quite right to point out the dangers of insincere democrats and potential terrorists using the democratic process to achieve undemocratic goals. But in my view, the danger lies less in insincere democrats getting elected than in the free world failing to do anything when their insincerity becomes apparent. Indeed, the real danger from 1930s Germany came not from the democratic election of the Nazi party, but from the refusal of the democratic world to take action once the Nazi destroyed democracy within Germany. Much the same can be said concerning Iran following the 1979 elections.
Imagine if the free world were to form a united front in the face of any regime – democratically elected or not – that failed to protect the right of dissent. Any society that did not keep the town square open would not be considered legitimate, might be sanctioned, and would risk a potential military response from the free world if that regime threatened its neighbors or committed savagery against its own people. If this sounds utopian, it is not because it is based on what some regard as a quixotic faith that “Arabs want freedom” or that “Islam is compatible with democracy” but rather because the free world is not acting as it could and should act.
The reason why the free world does not create such a united front is not merely the result of a European propensity toward appeasement. It is also because many policymakers in democratic countries do not see democracy promotion beyond their borders as fundamental to security. But to believe that American security is not fundamentally connected to what Mr. McCarthy calls “global political arrangements” is in my view terribly myopic. It was precisely the “global political arrangements” of the East Bloc during the Cold War – namely, Soviet tyranny – that was at the root of America’s security dilemma. Once those “global political arrangements” changed, so too did the American security paradigm.
If fighting terror is more urgent than promoting democracy, it is not because the former focuses on American security and the latter deals with abstract values, it is that the former is a short-term response to terror and the latter is a long-term response. The real defense against the reemergence of Nazism and Japanese militarism is not the number of NATO tanks or the size of America’s Pacific fleet, but rather the strength of German and Japanese democracy.
By allowing the pathologies of the Middle East to fester in a swamp of Middle East tyranny, America is endangering its own security. On the other hand, by helping the people of the region create free societies, America is not only giving hope to hundreds of millions living in tyranny, it is draining the swamp in which terrorists are bred and thereby protecting American security.
The cost to the free world of failing to help democratize the Middle East is enormous. Never before in human history could a small group of people, let alone a rogue regime, destroy a city. Today, that is possible. There is no doubt that the free world’s way of life is at stake in the Middle East. In my view, its survival is as well. In many ways, the threat from Islamic fundamentalist terror is greater than the threat from Soviet communism. While the Soviets, like the Islamists, were bent on world domination, the means they used to achieve that goal were rational and therefore subject to deterrence. Every time the Soviets were faced with the choice of their ideology or their survival – e.g. Berlin, Cuba – they chose their survival (How many communist suicide bombers were there?) There are no guarantees that Islamists will make the same choice. Because traditional deterrence may be ineffective, the need to act to help transform these societies becomes far more urgent.
FP: Mr. McCarthy?
McCarthy: Jamie, let me first say, again, that it’s been a pleasure to be part of an exchange on such important topics with such a distinguished and thoughtful panel. Thank you for inviting me.
I think what our discussion has best crystallized is that there is a major difference between substantive democracy, which we all desire and promote, and procedural democracy – the holding of elections and other attendments of democracy that do not necessarily bespeak a committed, democratic culture.
It is critical that the administration appreciate the difference. That’s why I find the administration’s occasional solicitude of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood so troubling – and why I find Turi Munthe’s suggestions about embracing these terrorist organizations so appalling.
Authentic democracy is something to strive for, but it is not a ne plus ultra. As a civilized society, we simply must take the position that any organization that practices terrorism – that believes the mass homicide of civilians is an acceptable means to pursue political, social, religious or other ends – forfeits its right to a place at the table. Taking any other position ensures more terrorism. Taking such a position in order to bring such savagery under a big democratic tent taints democracy. And the thought that democracy is somehow going to change the barbarous conduct of these organizations once they are brought into the process or once they acquire power is a dangerous fantasy.
I would make two other points. First, I am not an adherent of Brent Scowcroft realism. But I don’t believe there is an either-or choice to be made between strict realism and a philosophy that says democracy is the cure for all our ills. We must promote democracy – authentic democracy – but we must also recognize that it is not an instant transformation and that, as Michael Rubin notes, there is a lot of insincerity and power-playing on the part of those who claim to have hopped aboard the democratic bandwagon. If everyone were as honorably committed to real democracy as Ron Dermer, this could be a lot shorter discussion.
Secondly, I do think we have to start considering what the real national security costs of promoting democracy may entail. Iraq, it’s fair to say, has proved to be much more involved, resource-intensive and expensive than anticipated. Let’s think for a moment of the ominous signals from Ahmadinejad, the new strongman for an Iran that has been harboring al Qaeda leaders and quietly helping the insurgency kill American and coalition forces for a couple of years. Let’s think of Syria’s assistance to the Iraqi insurgency. In the weeks and months immediately after 9/11, there was a strong national backing of the Bush doctrine, which warned the terror masters that facilitating terrorism was going to expose them to a robust response. Now, after the Iraq experience, there seems to be no stomach for dealing with these regimes – which pose as great or greater a threat as did Saddam at the time he was toppled.
Has the commitment to democracy building – and the sense that if we take action in defense of our national security we may be buying on to yet more difficult, multi-year military occupations and literally hundreds of billions more in foreign aid – dangerously paralyzed us? Or, put another way, is Iran’s increasingly provocative posture fed in part by a conceit that after Iraq we lack the national will to deal seriously with Iran? And if the answer is yes, as I believe it is, has that not made us less safe?
I don’t think that means we stop promoting democracy. But I end where I began: it does mean we have to prioritize. Promoting democracy is important, but it is not as important as enforcing the Bush doctrine of eradicating the terror network and its state sponsors.
Marshall: Whew, this discussion has opened up questions on the nature of Islam, of civilization, of culture, of democracy, and of human nature, not to mention the empirically daunting questions of the nature of Erdogan’s regime, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbollah, and the effects that electoral participation and success might have on them. We all have views on each of these but I think that each of us is aware that our views on many of them can be well contested by thoughtful people. Even if America’s political debates on these matters were not held hostage to shorter term political gains, we would still be caught in debates on the most fundamental matters of politics.
I think we need to stress universals less and particulars more.
Is there a universal human desire for freedom? Yes, but there are human desires for other things too that might trump freedom.
Should we usually respect election results? Yes, but we are under no obligation to think that people always decide wisely, so we might need to oppose such regimes.
Do democratic practices tend to soften ideological parties? Yes, but only as long as genuine democratic practices continue. Competing in elections, or winning them does not itself guarantee the softening of anything. If a party uses its electoral success to undermine the conditions of freedom, as Michael argues Erdogan is doing (and I am inclined to agree with him—Michael, that is), and so prevent its possible replacement, then electoral success has simply led to tyranny
Is actually existing Islam compatible with democracy. Yes, the example of Indonesia is the most salient, but, among other examples, we can also mention poverty stricken but free Mali. But, at the same time, there are strong currents within actually existing Islam that militate against democracy. These are particularly strong in the Arab world, where they are combined with pathologies peculiar to the Middle East. So, can we have democracy there? Probably, but it’s a long and tough haul.
Might the Muslim Brotherhood and its kindred become tamed by democratic participation. Yes, but there is no guarantee that they will. The fact that the MB claims to have forsworn violence does not tell us too much, other than that it thinks it can achieve its goals non-violently. Its goals are no less obnoxious and tyrannical, and their practice can be as destructive to the polities where they might achieve power. But blocking them might worsen the situation.
If Islamist regimes come to power in more Muslim countries, is U.S. is likely to survive? Yes, but the situation will be more dangerous and less advantageous for us. If it becomes more truly dangerous, then we are likely to become more cold-blooded—willing, if necessary, to destroy our enemies without committing ourselves to rebuild them afterwards. The U.S. has so far committed very little of its resources to the war on Islamofascism. I would hate for us to fall back to more naked power, but we do have a lot of fall back positions.
In the Middle East, we have to do all we can to see Iraq through to a decent regime. For Egypt, Jordan, Syria and so forth, our efforts should be directed in the first place not to elections per se but to helping entrench the conditions and institutions of a free society—freedom of religion, of the press, of opinion, of association, of dissent—in which elections become more than pragmatic paths to power.
Munthe: Jamie, as ever, this has been a fascinating discussion, and I too am grateful to have been invited on board.
Reading back over our responses, I’m struck by the very broad agreement amongst us. Should we fight terrorism or support democracy? It seems all of us reply ‘both’, and all of us believe the two go hand in hand. The importance of combating Jihadi terrorism is self-evident, so let me take this last post to go over some of the issues surrounding democracy-promotion.
Yes, let us please complicate our notions of what ‘democracy’ truly is. Democracy is a big bag of tricks – pulling out and brandishing elections not only obfuscates the issue, but endangers the project.
My view is that the geopolitical battle over Islam is not between the West and the Arab world but within the Muslim world: a major crisis taking place across the Middle East in particular, but in other Muslim countries as well, over how to engage in and become part of modernity. A short century’s worth of brutal secular autocracy across the region has activated a series of alternative formulae to achieve that. It’s the failure of secularism (aided and abetted by Scowcroft ‘realism’) that is responsible for the rise of Islamism as an alternative political movement. And that Scowcroft realism is precisely why Jihadi extremism today targets the West: because the West pitched its tent with the other side, increasingly against the desires of the majority in the region. We are seen to be complicit with those autocracies. Because we take sides in that internal debate, we are seen, by the fringes, as engaged in battle and therefore legitimate targets.
Consequently, I see no other way out for the West than disengagement from these native debates. Because I, like almost all of us here, believe in the ‘universal human desire for freedom’, I’d ask for us to allow the Middle East to hammer out its own native approach to the modern world, towards that goal of liberty, confident in the view that liberty is what will be achieved. And I’m convinced the West can help by promoting, as forcefully as possible without tilting towards another Iraq, the cause of true democracy across the region. We have political and economic leverage with all the countries of the Middle East. As we’ve discussed, we also have the benefit of near-unanimous native support for that greater democratic project. This is where the muscle should go.
Of course I’m worried about one-man one-vote one-time, but I don’t think that worry should pre-empt our belief in democracy-promotion-as-security-strategy. I concur completely with Ron Dermer’s line that our failure in 1930s Germany was not in allowing the 1933 elections to take place, but in failing to respond to the subsequent Nazi destruction of democracy.
In the case, therefore, of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hizballah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Territories, I believe we have to allow them political participation. Failure to do so again ensures the West is unnecessarily dragged into the internal battles taking place inside the Middle East AND it martyrizes those political movements we seek most to discredit (and which, I believe, do a far better job of discrediting themselves without our help). Let them run for power. Let them take it if they win it democratically. And let us keep the keenest eye on them thereafter. Mr. Rubin is absolutely right when he stresses that just because a regime is democratic, it doesn’t mean the West can’t take issue (even belligerent issue) with it. I’d add that it actually makes it easier, since it doesn’t pitch the battle along cultural lines – it excludes the religio-cultural from the political sphere, which is exactly what we all want.
I would argue, against Jamie and Mr. McCarthy, that demonizing Hamas and other political movements with real political support on the ground serves their purposes. And I am far less concerned about their avowed political intents than either of you because I see them as movements emerging out of political not cultural circumstances. I am convinced, therefore, that as those circumstances change, so will their politics. And their politics will have to change, because if they don’t (and if – as Mr. Rubin and Mr. Dermer have enjoined upon us – the West is as committed as it should be to maintaining the structures of democracy in the region), they’ll be voted out of power.
FP: Thanks Mr. Munthe.
Perhaps I am not understanding you correctly, but you say you see “no other way out for the West than disengagement from these native debates.” But then you imply that if Islamo-Fascists take power that the West can take “belligerent issue” with them.
I am not sure why you are recommending disengagement yet at the same time saying that getting “belligerent” can be necessary and legitimate at certain times. The whole point is that we are at this moment getting belligerent, engaging, at a crucial time. This is precisely the time when we must not disengage.
Disengagement from cancer means allowing it to grow. Sometimes a power has to intervene to take a cancer out. And if you don’t take a cancer out, it will spread. Fascism, communism and Islamism are totalitarian cancers. Disengaging from where they engage in their killing machines is, in my humble opinion, not a very wise – or humane – idea.
You say you are “far less concerned” about the avowed political intents of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah and Hamas than me and Mr. McCarthy. Well, I am a little bit concerned about the political intents of Nazis. Sorry.
You see these “movements” “emerging out of political not cultural circumstances.” And you are “convinced, therefore, that as those circumstances change, so will their politics.”
So let me see if I understand this: when “cultural circumstances” change, the leaders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah and Hamas will love Jews and not only want to live side-by-side with them, but will actually want them to join — and even help lead — their own societies? And they will also allow individual freedom and liberty, including women”s rights, in their societies?
You also inform us that when the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah and Hamas gain power “their politics will have to change” because if they don’t “they’ll be voted out of power.” Sorry, but what happens if they won’t be voted out of power? Then what?
Mr. Munthe, I see your point that sometimes you have to allow bad people to delegitimize themselves rather than creating martyrs out of them. Yes, by trying to take out cancers we may help spread them. But in some cases, as with a Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, and when millions of peoples’ lives are at stake, and the freedom of the West is at stake, we simply do not have the luxury to sit around and let certain processes proceed without intervention.
The way I see it is that when you see a movement, and its member talk like Nazis and act like Nazis and look like Nazis and carry out Nazi programs, that is when you start standing up to them and confronting them, and doing everything you can to wipe them out, not legitimize them and accept them as worthy and respectable political contributors and opponents.
Mr. Peters, what do you think?
Peters: It is essential that we not engage in comforting illusions about humanity. As someone who spent twenty-two years in uniform in defense of democracy and the cultural brilliance democracy fosters, I find myself in the odd position of warning, yet again, about the patently false generalization that “All human beings want democracy.” Most human beings would like more personal liberty and opportunity. Most would like a slightly greater voice in the greater political entity engulfing them.
But there is, at last, quite a difference between wanting a better life and risking that life for a difficult political system that has only worked in the West and a very few other cultures–even in India, democracy works at the national level, but tends to be rather a tattered, shabby affair locally. I do not intend this as an argument against democracy, which is the most humane and morally fertile system yet devised by humandkind; rather,
I believe that, if we are to foster democracy (or something approaching it) where it has never existed previously, we had better avoid the neo-con fantasy that, as soon as our tanks reach Baghdad, the only remaining differences will be a few civil debates between Jeffersonian Shi”as and Hamiltonian Sunnis.
While I despise the Brent-Scowcroft school of embracing dictators for short-term stability, I believe that successful idealism must be rooted in intellectual objectivity. Anyway, the Scowcrofts of the Cold War weren”t realists, they were insular and amoral ideologues whose focus on the moment harmed us badly in the longer term. They were oligarchs, not democrats.
At the end of this often-entrancing and always stimulating discussion, I do have to note that I agree that we are as foolish to pander to Hamas or other Muslim fascist organizations as we were to overlook the follies of the Shah of Iran, the viciousness of Saddam Hussein, and the spectacular political and moral corruption of Yasser Arafat.
You needn”t be an idealist to appreciate the importance of moral integrity, whether in one”s personal life or in the behavior of a government. Indeed, as wisely noted above, if an organization”s leaders bark like Nazis and bite like Nazis we are foolish to imagine that we might, with a few incentives and handshakes, turn them into the Sisters of Mercy.
The civilization of the Middle East must change, for its own sake even more than for ours. We can play a constructive role on the margins, but the peoples of the Middle East must do the hard work themselves. Will they? Let us hope so. The current indicators are, at best, mixed. In the meantime, we must fight terror with resolution and resist tyranny with wisdom. We aren”t fighting merely for a new government in Baghdad, but for the future of the world.
Rubin: Much has been said with which I agree, and so I will conclude with a few small rather than sweeping points. Firstly, democratization should not be an either or proposition. Andrew spoke of the real national security costs of promoting democracy. He is correct. Democracy promotion has proven more involved and expensive than anticipated in Iraq. But that is why we should not delay democracy promotion when we have the chance. Take the case of Iran: Last year, before the intelligence community revised the National Intelligence Estimate, the conventional wisdom was that there would not be enough time to pursue democratization before the Islamic Republic developed nuclear weapons. Now, many analysts believe Iran is five to ten years away. All the more reason to start supporting real democracy movements, independent trade unions, and other aspects of civil society that are committed to liberty and freedom.
During the Cold War, the foreign policy establishment opposed Reagan’s outreach to dissidents such as Natan Sharansky, fearing to do so might undermine their détente. Reagan wisely ignored these realists, who live for short-term compromise and dismiss the long-term security of the United States. We now know Reagan was right. And it would be as correct for the Bush administration to support true dissidents like Akbar Ganji and Arash Sigarchi (http://www.meforum.org/article/792) in Iran, Fathi El-Jahmi (http://www.meforum.org/article/681) in Libya, Aktham Naisse (http://www.meforum.org/article/720) in Syria, and Neila Hachicha Charchour (http://www.meforum.org/article/732) in Tunisia.
Democratization is not a panacea. It needs to be conducted with care and discretion. Whether Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mujahidin al-Khalq, or Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, too many groups have found it too easy to use the rhetoric democracy for undemocratic ends. Washington policymakers can be naïve. While in Baghdad, Bush’s own deputy national security advisor for Iraq once told Iraqis that Washington would have no objection to an Islamist group taking control of the ministry of education. That said, if democratization is coupled with the accountability inherent on all democracies, then states which are now far from free can start down the long but worthwhile process toward democratization.
Dermer: I would also like to thank Jamie for giving me the opportunity to participate in such an interesting panel.
First, an observation. I know it is comforting to suggest, as some have, that we are all in basic agreement over the need to promote democracy and fight terrorism, but I don”t know how far that gets us.
I think we would be hard-pressed to find a handful of so-called realists who do not believe that having a liberal democratic international order is a good thing. The problem with them is that they do not see the promotion of democracy as fundamental to the national interest and therefore sacrifice freedom on the altar of stability and security all the time. Senator Jackson and President Reagan recognized that freedom abroad and security at home are inextricably linked and this is why they were so effective in articulating and implementing policies that both advanced freedom and strengthened security. President Bush appears to recognize this fundamental link as well and has been willing at times to sacrifice the illusion of the stability of the strongman on the altar of freedom!
This democracy vs. stability trade-off is the Phillips Curve of international diplomacy. Just as Friedman explained that if governments think they can choose between more inflation and more unemployment, they will end up with stagflation, so too Sharansky explains that democratic governments who think their foreign policies are a choice between advancing democracy and preserving stability will end up with both tyranny and instability.
But I don’t want to simply champion an abstract idea. What about the very real question, which many of my fellow panellists have discussed, of what is to be done about fundamentalists participating in free elections? First, it should always be remembered that for elections to be legitimate, they must be elections conducted in a free society where people are free to express their views without fear. It will be exceedingly difficult for fundamentalists to come to power in such elections.
But what if fundamentalists do compete in free elections? Here, it is important to distinguish between fundamentalists and terrorists. Religious fundamentalists, who seek to model society according to their belief system, have as much right as anyone including secular fundamentalists – to use the democratic process to advance their beliefs. What they do not have a right to do is to prevent others from doing the same thing (i.e. destroy the democratic order). That is why the right of dissent is the quintessential right in a democratic society. It is the right which enables democratic change. That is also why the free world must not let any group destroy that right.
Terror groups, who practice terror or openly preach genocide or policide (destruction of a state) should never be considered legitimate. These groups destroy not merely the right to dissent, but the dissenters as well. At a minimum, the free world should refuse to deal with any government that includes terror groups.
As for the problem Michael addresses of fundamentalist groups who talk the democratic talk but who are really using the democratic process in the hope that they can win power and then destroy democracy, here I believe that the burden of proof must be on those who wish to confront these groups. These elected leaders ostensibly represent popular will and therefore should be allowed to govern their societies as they wish as long as they do not subvert the basic democratic order.
I would admit only one exception, when the dangers of being wrong are immediate and irreversible. That is, when fundamentalist anti-Western groups win power in a country that possesses weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. The danger of these weapons falling into the hands of terror groups is simply too high to risk being wrong.
One final point. It seems reasonable to argue that democratic movements in fear societies have to fight their own fight. The problem with this argument is that they are not fighting a fair fight. Not only is the free world supporting the tyrants that oppress them, they are also facing terror groups awash in petrodollars. At a minimum, the free world should stop supporting dictators. But hopefully, we will provide these democratic movements with substantial aid — moral, financial, political, diplomatic and sometimes military – for their sake and ours.
FP: Ron Dermer, Turi Munthe, Andrew McCarthy, Ralph Peters, Paul Marshall, and Michael Rubin, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium for this fascinating discussion today.