The Islamic democracy project is nothing if not beguiling. From Clinton’s Orwellian “peace process” through Bush’s cloying “freedom agenda” to Obama’s contortion of an Islamist ascendancy into “the Arab Spring,” the dream teems with self-congratulation, so much so that its debilitating downsides go unseen and unaddressed. Thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran, that situation has just gone from dangerously delusional to dangerous, period.
The list of downsides is long. There is the rudimentary problem that democracy promotion does not work. As a national-security strategy, it is irrelevant to our threat environment.
Yes, democratic nations tend to avoid war with each other. If al-Qaeda were Afghanistan, it might make sense to spend tenfold Afghanistan’s GDP to drag it kicking and Allahu-akbar
ing 14 centuries forward. But principles fit for sovereign states are inapposite when it comes to global terror networks. The latter have no incentive to secure citizens and territory; for them, democratic freedoms are not values to be cherished but weapons to be exploited. To plot their gruesome business, Mohamed Atta & Co. found democracy in Hamburg, Madrid, Scottsdale, and Venice, Fla., perfectly suitable.
Then there is the unwelcome fact that promoting Western democracy in Islamic lands actually increases the threat to us. This owes to our enemies’ animating ideology — the one doctrine that gets even less scrutiny than that of democracy promotion.
Under sharia, the law of Islam, non-Muslim forces that occupy Muslim territory must be attacked until they are driven out. It makes no difference that the non-Muslims believe they are engaged in a humanitarian effort to make life better for Muslims. In Muslim lands, Islamic doctrine holds that sharia is to be regarded as the supreme law, and it is a code that rejects core democratic principles, including the foundational conceits that people are free, equal, and at liberty to enact the laws of their choosing, irrespective of sharia.
Consequently, the sowing of Western ideas and institutions in Islamic soil is perceived as a hostile act by the Muslim mainstream — strong majorities of which desire to live under sharia. That is why, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood’s influential jurisprudent, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, issued a fatwa calling for jihad against American personnel in Iraq. It is why, far from being grateful for our sacrifices, Iraqis say they want us out of their country yesterday. It is why al-Qaeda built a strong regional following when its signal cause was driving U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia — in accordance with Koranic scripture, non-Muslims are deemed unfit to set foot in Mecca and Medina.
There is also the perverse manner in which democracy promotion degrades democracy overseas and at home. Because Muslim countries do not want Western democracy, we have to inject it with sharia to carry the charade off. As a member of any persecuted minority in Iraq or Afghanistan might tell you, that is like injecting Superman with kryptonite. Meanwhile, in our own country, we are told the charade’s “success” requires the steady abrasion of our free-expression rights, lest the resulting slights to tender Muslim sensibilities — and sharia’s strict ban on negative critiques of Islam — engulf our troops and our homeland in reactionary violence.
Nevertheless, today’s most pressing challenge stems not from these consciously avoided perils of the freedom agenda, but from another.
For several years, I’ve contended that democracy promotion’s steepest downside would be the dissolution of our will to defend the United States from a determined enemy. As the American people became inured to the new calculus — that victory is no longer our goal, that destroying enemies who endanger us is no longer sufficient, and that the price-tag of our security now includes spending thankless years, unrecoverable billions of dollars, and the precious lives of our best young people in rebuilding the aggressor nation — they would resist actions vital to their own security.
We are there.