Senator Kerrey is a principled liberal. Only a principled liberal could so vividly capture the cynical irony here. Though conceived as vital to our national security, the Iraqi chapter in the war on terror has been conducted, since Saddam’s expulsion, as a Wilsonian experiment. It assumes — against all reason and experience — that we’re all one human family, that everyone craves freedom, that everyone would use freedom the same enlightened way, and that we, the superpower, have a special obligation to make it happen. If the experiment were being conducted by liberals, rather than by George W. Bush, Democrats would be its staunchest defenders (and conservatives its wariest skeptics).
Iraq, however, is a frustrating slog precisely because it is an exercise in democracy building, not mere jihadist repulsion. Sen. Kerrey wants to have both Bush’s grandiose democracy project and Webb’s Spartan terrorist smacking … all without occupying anyone. It can’t be done.
We want, of course, to believe that we can democratize Islamic radicals into submission — it’s much more congenial than killing them or cooling their jets in Guantanamo Bay so we can get the intelligence needed to kill them before they kill us. But it’s a fantasy. The cold record shows that jihadists are much better at using democracy to pursue their ends than democracy is at quelling jihadist pathologies.
But let’s say you can’t or won’t believe that. Let’s ignore that jihadists planned 9/11 for months in the safety of Germany, Spain, and the United States. Let’s pretend that they haven’t attacked New York, Virginia, Madrid, and London because democratic freedoms made those places easy operating environments. The stubborn fact remains: If democracy is going to be your counterterrorism strategy, you’d better be ready to occupy. To occupy for decades in places where it is anything but clear that real democratic culture will take root despite your best efforts.
Senator Kerrey is to be congratulated for admonishing his party to stop denigrating a war its traditions counsel supporting. But if the politicizing ever does end, some adult reality will need facing — and not just by Democrats.
Much of the Islamic world does not want true democracy — and that’s by no means just the militants. If we really respected these Muslim millions, as we say we do, we’d concede that they’re not ignorant. They have, instead, made a different choice. They have chosen a submissive path, anathema to our sensibilities. If democracy is why we fight, then long occupation will necessarily be the price. And the attendant blood and treasure cry out for the compelling case no one has yet made: The case that democracy is likely to defeat jihadism. Faith may move mountains, but it is not a national-security strategy.
On the other hand, if occupation is a price we have neither the cause nor the will to pay, we must shun democracy imposition. Our finite attention should instead be focused on determining what measures are necessary to eradicate jihadist networks, and on bluntly considering how such steps square with our regnant international law infrastructure — the legacy of a world that no longer exists … if it ever did.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
In National Review: