That panel discussion on democracy with Michael Rubin, Dan Pipes, Robert Satloff, and Joshua Muravchik is fascinating. I’m partial to Pipes’s democratic gradualism (as I note today in “Hawkish Gloom”). But to continue the gloominess, gradualists like Pipes and me have a problem. Without a ongoing American military presence in the Middle East, it’s tough to operate, much less calibrate, a policy of gradual democratic transformation. That is the great attraction and advantage of a strategy of rapid democratization. Quick democratization raises the hope of a quick American exit. Unfortunately, quick democratization doesn’t work.
The panelists all give the Bush administration an A for effort, while also faulting the administration for poor democratic implementation. I think the problem is less a lack of knowledge than political pressure. The administration knows that public support for our presence in the Middle East is time-limited. So they’re trying to push democratization quickly. That leads to the sort of corner-cutting described by Satloff. This mentality of “hold elections then get out” has been in place since we first went into Iraq.
Supposedly, 9/11 worked a radical change in the Bush administration, replacing opposition to nation building with the goal of democratic transformation. But from the perspective of a democratic gradualist, the administration is still uncomfortable with the idea of nation building. Real democratization takes time. “Hold elections and get out” is not a formula for successful nation building.
On the other hand, neither the American public nor the Bush administration have the desire for an extended military presence in the Middle East. The truth is, despite the accusations, neither the American public nor the Bush administration are imperialists. And precisely because of that, it’s tough to get the time needed for genuine transformation.
So we are running out of good alternatives. Option one is to pretend that 9/11 was an isolated incident (or a hidden internal conspiracy), not the revelation of a new and serious long-term danger. Many anti-war types prefer option one. Option two is to acknowledge the danger of mass-scale terrorism using weapons of mass destruction, but rely on negotiations, economic incentives, “grand bargains,” etc. to solve the problem (the favorite Democratic solution). In the absence of a credible threat of force (and maybe even then, given the nature of our terrorist foe), I think option two is doomed. Option three is to deploy force to preempt one rogue state and frighten others, while depending on a rapidly-spreading wave of democratization to assure long-term change, and permit relatively rapid American military withdrawal. Option three is not working out as planned. Option four is an expanded American military and a combination of more attacks (eg. a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities) with an extended and enlarged occupation of Iraq, working real social transformation and democratization. In the absence of a major new terror strike on the U.S., or an Iran on or over the nuclear brink, option four is politically unsustainable.