As an editorial on this page recently asked: “Anyone out there have a better idea” than the Bush administration’s policy of high-profile democracy promotion in the Arab and Muslim worlds as a means to fight terrorism? Well, yes, there is one. That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now.
The essential problem with the administration’s approach is that it conflates two issues that are separate. The first has to do with violent, antimodern radical Islamism (on display both in the reaction to the Danish cartoons and in the mosque bombing in Samarra); the second concerns the dysfunctionality of political and social institutions in much of the Arab world.
As I said before, we need to regard the establishment of democracy in the Middle East as a collateral goal. The measure of victory in the war against terrorism is, in fact, the defeat of the state sponsors of terrorism and the ideology of the radical Islamists. Fukuyama has it about right. “Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism.” Now all we gotta do is get W on board.