"This is a very positive day … for world peace," said President Bush, following the referendum on a new Iraqi constitution. "Democracies are peaceful countries." Considering that Iraq is perhaps the least peaceful country on earth, the statement seemed jarring.
It should not be. For it reflects a quasi-religious transformation in George W. Bush — his political conversion to democratism, a faith-based ideology that holds democracy to be the cure for mankind’s ills, and its absence to be the principal cause of terror and war.
In the theology of a devout democratist, if Americans will only persevere in using their power to convert the Islamic world, then the whole world, to democracy, we will come as close as mankind can to creating heaven on earth.
As Bush said in his second inaugural, "So, it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
Speaking, three weeks ago, to the 20th birthday conclave of the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush recited the true believer’s creed: "If the peoples (of the Middle East) are permitted to choose their own destiny … by their participation as free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow and eventually end."
The president was seconded by Vice President Cheney on CNN: "I think … we will, in fact, succeed in getting democracy established in Iraq, and I think that when we do, that will be the end of the insurgency."
Upon this faith Bush has wagered his presidency, the lives of America’s best and bravest, and our entire position in the Middle East and the world. But as the Los Angeles Times’ Tyler Marshall and Louise Roug report, U.S. field commanders George Casey and John Abizaid are skeptical that any election where Iraq’s Sunnis are dispossessed of pre-eminence and power will ensure an end to terror. It may, they warn, bring new Sunni support for the insurgency.
Also challenging the Bush faith is Brian Jenkins, a terrorism specialist at RAND. He cites Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Northern Ireland as countries where democracy has failed to end political violence.
Nathan Brown, a Mideast expert at the Carnegie Endowment, agrees: "The democratic process as it has worked so far (in Iraq) has certainly done nothing to undermine the insurgency."
But the most sweeping challenge to President Bush’s faith-based war comes from F. Gregory Cause III in Foreign Affairs. Writes Cause: "There is no evidence that democracy reduces terror. Indeed, a democratic Middle East would probably result in Islamist governments unwilling to cooperate with Washington."
In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, it is anti-American Islamists who seem positioned to seize power should it fall from the hands of the authoritarian rulers the National Endowment for Democracy and its neoconservative allies seek to destabilize and dump over.
If Cause is right and Bush wrong, the fruits of our bloody war for democracy in Iraq could mean a Middle East more hostile to American values and U.S. vital interests than the one Bush inherited.
That would be a strategic disaster of historic dimension.
Not only does democracy offer no guarantee against terror, writes Cause, democracies are the most frequent targets of terror. Not one incident of terror was reported in China between 2000 and 2003, but democratic India suffered 203. Israel, the most democratic nation in the Middle East, endured scores of acts of terror from 2000 to 2005. Syria’s dictatorship experienced almost none. While Saddam’s Iraq was terror-free, democratic Iraq suffers daily attacks.
Researching 25 years of suicide bombings, scholar Robert Pape found the leading cause was not a lack of democracy, but the presence of troops from democratic nations on lands terrorists believe by right belong to them.
The United States was hit on 9-11 because we had an army on Saudi soil. Britain and Spain were hit for sending troops to occupy Iraq. Russia was hit at Beslan because she is perceived as occupying Chechnya.
Democracy is thus no more a cure for terror than its absence is the cause. Osama has no moral objection to dictatorships. He means to establish one, a caliphate where mosque and state are joined, and sharia law is imposed without recourse to referendum.
As with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho and Castro, so, too, with bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Such men seek absolute power and use revolutionary terror as the means to establish their dictatorships.
By January, we shall know whether Iraqi democracy is the antidote to terror Bush believes it to be. If it is not, he and we will have to face the grim consequences of his conversion to a utopian ideology in the name of which he pursued a potentially calamitous three-year war.