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-akbaring 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.
Iran’s sharia state has been killing and plotting to kill Americans for more than 30 years. Critics who see that observation as war-mongering repeat the folly that gave us 9/11: When the other side is already at war with you, you cannot make the war go away by ignoring it — that only emboldens the enemy. I don’t want war with Iran. I want to win the war Iran has instigated.
It was revealed this week that the Iranian regime plotted to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States — inside our country and in a plot that blithely assumed scores of Americans would be collaterally killed. The Iranian-American dual citizen at the center of the scheme has been arrested. But this is an act of war, not a crime.
It is one thing to pretend that a jihadist campaign by a sub-sovereign terror network is just a crime spree for which trial in the civilian justice system is an adequate response. Iran, however, is a state actor — not even arguably amenable to court prosecution. A state aggressor must get a political response, not a legal one. There is a range of possible political responses, of course, but given its three-decade campaign of aggression, the response to Iran must be military — and decisive. The regime must be destroyed.
Iran proclaimed its war against the United States in 1979. Ever since then, “Death to America” has been its unceasing battle cry. Its forward terrorist militia, Hezbollah, has killed hundreds of American military and intelligence personnel. The mullahs have been training and arming al-Qaeda since the early 1990s.
In 1996, the regime orchestrated the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 members of our Air Force. The 9/11 Commission found “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11,” including “future 9/11 hijackers”; its report adds that senior Hezbollah commanders actually accompanied these future hijackers on some of these transit flights — although our government has studiously resisted probing whether Iran was directly complicit in the slaughter of almost 3,000 Americans or whether this was just, as the commission put it, “a remarkable coincidence.” What is certain, though, is that the regime gave al-Qaeda operatives safe haven when our armed forces were unleashed to attack their Afghan sanctuary in late 2001. As our generals have repeatedly acknowledged, Iran supplies and directs terror cells in Afghanistan and Iraq that target American troops. No surprise there: Iran has long been the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
In the greater scheme of Iranian atrocities, the affront revealed this week is comparatively tame. Nevertheless, it is a deadly serious continuation of the jihad. A host nation’s obligation to protect foreign diplomats is essential to peace, commerce, and stability. To attack foreign diplomats has thus, for centuries, been deemed a heinous violation of the law of nations. Iran obviously seeks to destabilize relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, against both of which it fights proxy wars through the terror factions it commands.
The recently thwarted plot was choreographed by the Quds (Jerusalem) Force, an especially lethal component of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Quds Force reports directly to Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In an intriguing twist, Claudia Rosett points out that the objective may have been to have the Saudi ambassador rubbed out in late September, while the regime’s mouthpiece, Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was in New York for his annual rant at the U.N. And as Michael Ledeen observes, the regime’s attempt to conduct an attack on our soil does not — as some claim — raise Iranian audacity to a new threshold of brazenness: Tehran’s agents have been surreptitiously operating here for years, harassing dissidents and quite likely arming jihadists.
Almost all the attention and diplomatic energy futilely devoted to Iran in recent years has centered on its nuclear program — to the exclusion of its terrorist aggression and the savagery by which it notoriously represses its citizens. Indeed, the dispersal of its nuclear installations in numerous secret, fortified locations throughout its territory is the ever-ready rationalization for refraining from military action: “We can’t count on destroying all the sites,” the explanation goes, “so what’s the point of trying?”
The point is that the problem isn’t the nukes, it’s the regime — and while there may be many sites, there is only one regime. Take the regime out, eliminate the world’s most destabilizing and incorrigibly evil force, and the challenge of Iran’s weapons program would get a lot easier. So would such challenges as the future of Iraq; the ground beneath Syria’s execrable Assad regime; and the supply lines of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and the mullahs’ other clients.
Most significant, gone would be today’s worst threat to American national security — a threat that will become only more dire if these rabid, desperate men are permitted to become a nuclear power. That is an eventuality that will come about in short order if we fail to act. It is an eventuality that we should find unacceptable, as this week once again demonstrated. And it can be stopped only by military force; other options have been exhausted, and they only vex the mullahs — they don’t stop them.
Yet, war-weary Americans seem, even now, to have no stomach for transitioning from toothless “unacceptable” rhetoric to purposeful action to prevent the allegedly unacceptable. In truth, however, we’re not war-weary. We’re freedom-agenda weary. We don’t want another “You break it, you own it” lecture — as if it were an ironclad rule that attacking America somehow obliges us to fix your dysfunctional country. We don’t want to be in Tehran for a decade or two, spending another trillion or so to build a sharia-lite “democracy” that ends up despising us. We don’t want to sacrifice any more young men and women to the thankless task of tip-toeing through the IEDs to protect warring Muslims from each other.
All fair enough. Still, none of it changes the key facts on the ground: Iran is at war with us, and the longer we ignore it the more difficult it will become to do what needs doing. Millions of Iranians are already struggling to overthrow the tyrants, and if we’d given them the right kind of encouragement, they might have accomplished that by now. They are a proud and sophisticated people, with a rich history and their own ideas about what comes after the Khomeini nightmare. We don’t have to own Iran just because we have to break it. But we do have to break it.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.