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Terror V Democracy


Fareed Zakaria has a piece in Newsweek well worth reading. It might seem like a Bush-bashing piece at first, but it’s not. Yes, there are a few swipes at the president. But there’s also grudging acknowledgment of the power of the president’s argument. In fact, I think Zakaria sees the force of the president’s position even more than he lets on. In any case, Zakaria’s larger criticisms/suggestions are worth pondering.

Zakaria has long argued that mere voting is not enough. Democracy requires an underlying cultural movement toward liberal values, not just elections. I’ve made a similar point myself, for example in “Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint.” Now one response to this view is to give up on the democratizing project altogether. If elections aren’t enough, if it takes years of slow and patient cultural transformation, then democratization may be too costly. But there’s another possible response to the cultural point. We can agree that the stakes give us little choice but to democratize, acknowledge the significant risks, and then put serious effort into promoting cultural change. That’s more or less my position, and apparently it’s Zakaria’s as well.

The other day, Rich suggested that a bad course in Iraq might lead conservatives to shed their Wilsonianism but keep their Jacksonianism (i.e. stay tough militarily but give up on democratic change). Yes, that might happen. But there is another option. Instead of giving up on democratization, we might learn to promote it more successfully by doing more than merely arranging elections.

This may seem impossibly hard, but if it weren’t for the terror campaign in Iraq, it might already have begun. We had a slew of entrepreneurs, NGO’s, and educators ready to go into Iraq, but the loss of security made that impossible. It’s true that the overall Iraqi situation is isn’t as bad as the hot spots of resistance make it seem. The media does downplay the good news. But the one great achievement of the resistance has been undermining the ability of American and European civilians to safely move about the country. These are the people who could have begun to transform the Iraqi economy, educational system, etc. Which is exactly why the terrorists like to kidnap foreigners.

This is a tribute to the power of violence. And we see it in Europe as well. A little terrorism goes a long way. A subway bombing in Spain, and few more in London, a couple of assassinations in The Netherlands, and all Europe can now be effectively terrorized and silenced by mere threats. Terrorism is the great antidote to the project of cultural transformation, both in Iraq and in Europe. The other side knows what we’re trying to accomplish (deep cultural change), and their willingness to use violence to prevent that is in some sense a highly rational, or at least effective strategy, given their goal.

So while creating deeper cultural change in Iraq and elsewhere might be far from impossible, the terrorism weapon puts that strategy in doubt. Things might be different now if we’d substantially increased our military forces just after 9/11, if not by a draft, then through an (expensive) expansion of the all-volunteer military. A massive military presence in Iraq might have damped down the resistance enough to allow more American civilians in. We could still make a way for civilians, if the Iraqi forces improve and the political factions in Iraq reach detente.

But in my view, successful democratization depends on deeper cultural change. And the problem now is not so much that democratization itself is impossible, as that the terror campaign has made it impossible for Western civilians to help transform the Muslim world. In fact, terrorism is now preventing Europeans from westernizing Muslims who live in Europe.