I’d like to add a corollary to Derb’s observation, with which I am in complete agreement, that “it is not obviously true in itself” that democratizing the Middle East (or at least Iraq) is vital to U.S. security. As Derb points out, we have indeed gotten on comfortably with gangster regimes. I must say I’m sympathetic to the counterpoint to that contention — viz., that we’ve been too comfortable with gangster regimes, to our long-term detriment. (The U.S. is more popular among the Iranian people, whose regime we shun, than among Egyptians, to whose dictator we shell out billions a year.)
But let me offer the flip side. After all this democratizing talk, where is the evidence that democratic regimes actually make the United States safer?
We’ve had terrorists, again and again, use the freedoms of democratic societies to attack us. (The 9/11 hijackers did not plan from Cairo, Riyadh and Baghdad; they planned from Hamburg, Madrid, Fairfield, Las Vegas, New York, Florida, Arizona, etc.) Terrorists have been able to launch attacks against democratic societies after lavish preparations inside democratic societies. And as Michael Ledeen argues today, jihadists are now being radicalized right inside democratic societies — there is less and less need to import them.
This is not to say that there are not good reasons to support and encourage democracy as a matter of national policy. Democracies don’t have much of a history of attacking one another, so if what you are worried about is the threat from other nation-states, democratizing makes sense. But democratization has never made sense to me as a vital defense against terrorists. Moreover, I have hard evidence that terrorists have used democracy to their benefit. The counter-argument, about how democracy effectively combats terrorism, is hypothetical (and wishfully so).