But, say the critics, Islamic and particularly Arab countries are uniquely resistant to change. Between 1981 and 2001 the number of non-Islamic countries rated “free”–that is to say, both democratic and liberal–increased by 34, according to Freedom House. By contrast the number of free Islamic countries remained constant at one, in the form of landlocked Mali. During the same period, the number of Islamic countries ranked “not free” increased by 10.
No doubt deep-seated cultural factors go some way toward explaining these statistics. But why seek abstruse explanations? In the same period when the U.S. was encouraging democratic openings in Eastern Europe, East Asia and Latin America–areas previously thought impervious to liberty, often for “cultural” reasons–it was supporting or tolerating undemocratic and illiberal regimes in the Middle East.
That period also coincided with the rise of al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole, the outbreak of the terrorist intifada in Israel, and September 11. Mr. Fukuyama may or may not be right that promoting democracy does not resolve the problem of terrorism in the short-term. What we know for sure is that tolerating dictatorship not only doesn’t resolve the terrorist problem but actively nurtures it.
Which brings us back to the question of what American policy should be. One answer is to retreat completely in the hopes of being left alone. This is the formula recently suggested by Osama bin Laden; those who would credit it must also entrust themselves to him.
This is not to say democracy is a cure-all. It is also not to say that the peril these democracies face, from terrorist insurrection or ethnic or religious feuding, isn’t grave. Nor, finally, is it to say that the “Hitler scenario” can be excluded in a democratizing Middle East; that possibility is always present, especially among nascent democracies.
But democracy also offers the possibility of greater liberalism and greater moderation, possibilities that have been opened with the courageously pro-American governments of Hamid Karzai, Jalal Talabani and Saad Hariri. And as we stand with them, it seems to us that America’s bets are better placed promoting democracies–even if some of them succumb to illiberal temptations–than acceding to dictatorships, which already have.
Or does someone have a better idea?
I think this article accurately sums up the Democrats’ problems. it’s evident that isolationism doesn’t work to keep us or the world safe, and while it is almost a guarantee that a policy of promoting democracies will lead to a handful of outcomes like the recent Hamas victory, it is stil better to have bad democracies than good dictatorships. But Democrats continue to focus on one or two exceptions and calling them “signs of incompetence” despite this understanding that not all will be perfect transitions.
And while they focus on the exceptions, the rest of us are recognizing the difference a free Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine are having on the world and asking the do-nothing complainers on the left… do you have a better idea?