Democracy Won’t Stop Terrorism

Most of the debate surrounding the Iraqi occupation concerns tactical questions. How many soldiers are needed, how many schools have opened, how many terrorists have been killed? In Donald Rumsfeld’s famous formula, American success is ultimately to be determined by the ratio of terrorists killed over terrorists created remaining above one.

Even the critics of the war, both left and right, tend to frame their criticisms around the rightness or wrongness of the administration’s philosophy, not the basic viability of its strategy. This is a pity, because it is on the question of strategic viability that the neoconservative warmongers are at their most vulnerable.

It is strange, but few have questioned the core neoconservative justification of the war, which is that if the Coalition of the Willing is capable of installing Western-style quasi-democracies in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism will be won and terrorism will finally come to an end. Perhaps this is because most observers don’t realize that leading neocons such as Michael Ledeen and Bill Kristol are entirely serious when they champion the notion of repeating our democratic successes in Iraq and Afghanistan in Iran and Syria.

Mr. Ledeen closes almost every column he writes for National Review online with the words “faster, please.” What he means is actually Iran delenda est.

And while it is entirely possible that he is right about the danger posed by nuclear-armed Iranian mullahs, this does not change the fact that the neoconservative prescription for ending terrorism is hopelessly flawed and doomed to failure. The reason is democracy cannot possibly be a cure for terrorism, as several surveys of the history of terrorism have indicated that democracy actually fosters the promulgation of terrorism.

There was a time when the popular theory was that poverty caused terrorism. But that theory had to be abandoned when it became obvious to everyone that the leading terrorist in the world, Yasser Arafat, was a very rich man. Nor was he an anomaly, as the terrorists of the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof gang, and the Japanese Red Army were mostly college-educated children of the upper-middle class. And, as everyone knows now, the most famous terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden, is an extremely wealthy Saudi.

The neocons filled this explanatory vacuum with the self-serving argument that the true root cause of terrorism was a lack of democracy, and they were just the very people to solve the problem with their concept of world democratic revolution.

In an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?,” University of Vermont professor F. Gregory Gause III calls this myth into question, citing a number of different studies before concluding: “There is, in other words, no solid empirical evidence for a strong link between democracy, or any other regime type, and terrorism, in either a positive or a negative direction.”

Gause also happens to mention some problems that I have previously noted, namely, that there is no evidence that democratic Islamic societies will be any friendlier to the United States or less disposed to subsidize terror directed against U.S. interests, while there is no shortage of evidence suggesting they will not. While Turkey is often cited as a positive example of Islamic democracy, its government is only secular because of three antidemocratic military coups, and the vicious Algerian civil war is still raging 13 years after the military refused to accept the Islamic Salvation Front’s electoral victory.

But the real reason democracy cannot end terrorism is that terrorism is ideally suited for influencing democratic results. Terrorism is violence by and for the people, which is to say, it is expressly designed to speak through the mass media in order to influence the masses. As every successful politician knows, fear is an excellent means of manipulating the minds of the voting populace, and so terrorism has a utility in democratic societies that it does not have in autocracies.

The political effect of this can be seen in Israel and Spain, where terrorism has effected genuine policy change, and the reality of its democratic utility can be seen in Iraq and in India, where there is far more terrorism than in autocracies like China and pre-invasion Iraq. Thus, it is increasingly clear that the administration’s strategy of ending terrorism sponsored in the Middle East by effecting regime change in favor of democratically elected governments will fail, indeed, that it never had a chance of success in the first place.

(Reprinted from WorldNetDaily.)