Wait a minute.
GWB continually asserts that bringing “democracy” to the Islamic world is the solution to the terror problem. At some very deep level and from a sufficiently long-term perspective, there’s something to this. Not as much as Bush likes to think — the UK, Germany, and Italy all faced long terrorist nightmares, and Spain still does, so democracy clearly is not a complete terror vaccine — but something, nonetheless.
But if “democracy” means anything, it means a political system in which popular opinion matters. So if “democracy” spreads in the Islamic world, we can’t have a foreign policy based on a strategy of catering to or cowing the oligarchs. We need popular support.
And yet the Bush policies, including the invasion of Iraq, have made us furiously unpopular in the Islamic world, over and above the unpopularity that is the price of our support of Israel.
Turkey, the most democratic country with a Muslim majority, found itself unable to support us in Iraq. Free elections in either Saudi Arabia or Pakistan might easily bring to power governments that would be active state sponsors of terror, and accordingly the Bush Administration doesn’t seem to be eager to push democratization in either country. (Free elections in Iraq might do the same thing, but no doubt the current Iraqi government will figure out a way to avoid that.) What would we do if the democratically elected government of Pakistan started passing nukes to terrorists?
So what’s the plan? As Tom Lehrer so memorably sang with reference to our old habit of intervening militarily in Latin America:
They’ve got to be protected,
all their rights respected,
’til somebody we like
can be elected.
At current rates, that could be a long time.
And if we in fact can’t stand the likely results of democracy in the Islamic world, then what’s Plan B?