Contradiction

If we plan to bring democracy to the Islamic world, it would be nice to arrange it so that fewer Muslims hate us.

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?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com