Thursday, June 09, 2005

Spreading Democracy Debate - First Rebuttal

Now that TIA and American Future have put forward their respective first volleys in the cross-blog debate on the promotion of democracy, it is time for the actual debating to begin. As a point of order, March Schulman and I will be limiting these rebuttals to one per day in the interest of our readers and their ability to follow along as the discussion proceeds. Without further ado, on to the forum....

The first thing I would like to address is one of the basic premises of Marc's entire thesis - how threat assessments drive policy choices. Marc says:

In the remainder of this essay, I discuss three methods available to the US in its effort to spread democracy: public diplomacy, forceful diplomacy, and military intervention. The methods -– which, borrowing Joseph Nye’s terminology, range from soft power to hard power –- one is willing to endorse depends on the seriousness with which one takes the terrorist threat.
I don't fault Marc for trying, but accepting his framing of the debate as he lays it out leads to the inevitability of certain conclusions. Under this construct, the more seriously you take the threat of terrorism, the more likely you are to endorse military actions that, at least ostensibly, target terrorism. This simply isn't the case in all contexts - and there is too much room to debate how effectively various military strategies target terrorism. It is quite possible, and not uncommon, for counterterrorism officials, scholars and experts to take the threat of terrorism very seriously - in a dire sense even - without advocating for military intervention in all contexts. Taken to its extreme, could you argue that someone who advocates nuking Mecca takes terrorism more seriously than say, a Richard Clarke who thinks there is more ground to made up with soft power?

Some of these well informed individuals would argue that some examples of military action could actually exacerbate the terrorism problem, rather than provide an antidote. For example, Marc's thesis is pretty solid in terms of assessing the support for our military intervention in Afghanistan. It would be hard to maintain that one takes the threat seriously, yet opposes uprooting Al Qaeda's sanctuary in Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq, however, is not so clear cut. Iraq was not the locus of international terrorism, it contained no major training facilities, leaders or recruitment hubs, nor was Iraq involved in sponsoring international jihadist movements. Thus, it is quite plausible to argue that attacking a Muslim nation only tangentially related to the problem, with images of death and destruction broadcast nightly on satellite television, could actually inflame passions, bolster the US-as-crusader propaganda spewed by Bin Laden and increase recruitment capacity and support for jihadists. So, one could reasonably argue, precisely because terrorism is so serious a threat, we should be reluctant to endorse military interventions - reserving them for only the most exigent circumstances. Which is a nice segue to my next point of departure with Marc.

....the question of the circumstances in which the US should attempt to spread democracy answers itself. We should give priority to establishing democratic regimes in those countries from which terrorists who view America as their enemy are most heavily recruited. [emphasis in original]
The first thing I would like to point out from this, is that the Schulman Doctrine would seem to suggest that invading Iraq and attempting to implant democracy was a poor strategic move. In his own words, we should give priority to those countries from which terrorists are most heavily recruited. Well, that would put Iraq just about at the bottom of the list, well below some Western European countries even, such as France, England and Spain. In actual numbers, they might even lag behind the United States. For whatever reason, Iraqis have not traditionally joined jihadist or terrorist movements, whereas second and third generation European Muslims are not an uncommon sighting in the ranks of terrorist organizations. According to profiles of Al Qaeda members by counterterrorism experts like Marc Sageman, the presence of Iraqis in the ranks of Al Qaeda and other Salafist jihadist organizations is, for all intents and purposes, non existent. That, unfortunately and ironically, might change post-invasion.

Interestingly, Marc, as someone who takes the threat of terrorism seriously, and thus under his rubric is quite willing to use military intervention as a tactic, and who claims that we should prioritize our actions to countries from which most terrorists are recruited, seems quite comfortable taking a wait and see/indirect approach with Saudi Arabia - the nation that by his own admission would top the list of priorities. Somehow, though, for a country like Iraq that was not contributing any terrorists, this more cautious approach was unacceptable. This despite the fact that Marc might characterize such an approach with Saudi Arabia as "appeasement that...grants them the time and freedom of action to further threaten American security and repress their people."

People choose to become terrorists. Several academic studies have shown that poverty is not the breeding ground for terrorists; the poor are pre-occupied with sustaining their miserable existence, lack access to the modern ways of delivering propaganda (e.g., the Internet), and don’t possess the education and skills that are in demand by terrorist groups. As evinced by Al-Qaeda's leadership and the 9/11 hijackers, well-educated individuals of above-average means are readily susceptible to recruitment by terrorist organizations. This, along with their countries of birth, lends credence to the argument that authoritarianism breeds terrorism, and the replacement of authoritarian by democratic regimes providing freedom and liberty is the most effective way to reduce the threats to our lives. [emphasis in original]
In his analysis of the root causes of terrorism, I think Marc has it partially right, but he makes a leap of faith that I am not sure is supported by the available evidence. He is correct to note that, somewhat counterintuitively, terrorists are generally not recruited from the ranks of the poor, marginalized or uneducated. As he says, quite the opposite - at least and especially when dealing with international jihadist strains of terrorism, rather than indigenous, national movements. It's the second part of his analysis - "that authoritarianism breeds terrorism" - that is wanting for support. For example, the stark absence of Iraqis from the membership rolls of jihadist terrorist organizations, contrasted with the consistent presence of Muslims born and raised in Western liberal democracies, is a pretty big curveball thrown at that theory. If authoritarianism breeds terrorism, and Saddam was the most brutish authoritarian, where are all the Iraqi terrorists? Similarly, if freedom and liberty are the antidotes to terrorism, why do wave after wave of citizens raised in nations well ahead of the curve in terms of freedom and liberty end up joining terrorist groups?

In a related, though less consequential sense, I think Marc's assessment of the Afghani contributions to the jihadist movement was also a departure from the evidence.

If the Taliban were still in power, the Afghani madrasses would still be teaching hatred of Americans and sending their graduating students to Al-Qaeda camps, where training for further terrorist attacks would be taking place.
In truth, Afghanis like Iraqis, were strangely apathetic to jihadist movements. True, the Taliban was willing to host Bin Laden, but there were almost no Afghanis amongst the ranks of Al Qaeda. Like Iraqis, you don't find Afghanis fighting in the various jihads in Bosnia, Chechnya or Southeast Asia. The place that nourished the jihadist movement throughout much of the 1980s has, oddly enough, not sprouted any homegrown prospects. But I digress.

As a general rule, I think that democracy will help to defuse some of the extremism that fuels terrorism. It will of course, take many many years to realize the fruits of this tree, and democracy promotion is not nearly the instant cure that Schulman makes it out to be. For example, Schulman dismisses the diplomatic routes due to their time-intensive nature:

Can any public diplomacy program – no matter how well thought out -- overcome the obstacles placed in its way by in-country media and religious authorities, the Western media, and NGOs? The most optimistic answer to this question is that it might over a span of many years. But we don’t have many years. Because the threat from terrorism is here and now, we can’t rely on public diplomacy to spread democracy. While soft power may be effective in the long-term, it’s woefully inadequate in the short-term.
But the creation of a democracy itself through military intervention will occur, if we are lucky enough to be successful, over the "span of many years." After that, we must wait for democracy's normalizing effects to permeate the mindset of the population as a whole, which in turn will take many more years. I remain unconvinced that military intervention followed by nation building offers a more direct or expedited route to peace, stability and an end to terrorist activity.

Part of the problem with this analysis is that it ignores the raison d'etre for Al Qaeda and the global Salafist jihadist movement in general. These organizations exist because they believe that the ruling regimes in the Arab world are led by apostates - heretical in the sense that these regimes have departed from the dictates of Sharia law and the mores in place during the time of the prophet Mohammed (the golden age). The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, grew out of reaction to the secular Nasser regime in Egypt, and was reinforced by ideological fellow travelers who were plagued by the perception that the Muslim world's decline compared to the West stemmed from the fact that the Muslim world had strayed from the righteous path. They believe that a return to a quasi-mythical, pan-Muslim caliphate, ruled by the strict dogma of Sharia, will propel Allah's chosen people ahead of the West.

The problem with the democracy-as panacea theory is that these people will not be satisfied by yet another incarnation of secular, non-Sharia, Western-tainted impurity. Democracy, from their point of view, will not return the umma to Allah's good graces. The hope is that over time, and through inclusion in the political process, they will come to appreciate democracy, but in the short term, the Salafists will be just as determined to try to bring about their mystical caliphate -through terrorism and other means depending on the asymmetry of power. In fact, in some ways, a nascent democracy is less adept at curtailing terrorism than a police state. So in the short term, the terrorist threat could be worse at the onset of the democratization of the Muslim world. In Iraq, the situation is even worse. We have created a failed state where one did not exist, allowing lawlessness and terrorism to thrive, while the Iraqi government and coalition forces struggle to contain the violence.

Worse still, and along the lines of the argument that military action can exacerbate the terrorist situation, Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as the central hub for the training, recruitment, indoctrination and networking for aspiring jihadists. Although we obliterated one such locus of activity in Kabul, we have replaced it with Baghdad. When the conflict in Iraq ends, and the flypaper loses its stickiness, Al Qaeda 2.0 will be unleashed on the world.

Here are some relevant quotes that I cited in
a post that dealt extensively with this subject:

Brian Ulrich:

...[P]eople turn to terrorism as a tactic because they can't achieve their goals through other means....By the same principle, the non-Muslims people like Bin Laden see as enemies can't be defeated by conventional military means. Therefore, people turn to terrorism. So there is something of a link. This does not mean that spreading democracy will end terrorism, because if the terrorists feel they still won't get their way, they'll continue to be terrorists. Abu Musab Zarqawi is making this point rather effectively in Iraq.
Then Matt Yglesias:

...[P]eople with goals that cannot be achieved through the ballot box -- disputes involving ethnic or sectarian minorities figure prominently in this -- aren't going to be impressed by democracy. What I think it's important to emphasize, however, is...the simple fact that whatever forces of social alienation explain extremism's appeal, they're perfectly consistent with the existence of democracy as in France.
And Matt from a related post:

...[A] lot of your radicalized Arabs in the world are people of (mostly North African) Arab origin living in Europe and, especially, France with its large Muslim population. Whatever these people are so mad about, it's not that the country they live in isn't democratic. Many of them were born in Europe, or spent most of their lives there...

And this, after all, should come as no surprise. The terrorists of the IRA and the ETA (and whatever you call that Corsican terrorist group) live in democracies as well. The[y] object to the ground rules of democratic politics as practiced in Northern Ireland or Spain (or wherever) for what are basically unrelated reasons. Malaysia and Indonesia have given birth to more than there fair share of terrorists, and while neither quite counts as a fully paid-up member of the democratic brotherhood, both are far from being the most autocratic states in the Middle East. Indeed, harsh dictatorships like Syria and Iraq have barely generated any terrorists whatsoever, though the Syrian government maintains ties to Lebanese-born people involved in Hezbollah who retain a robust terrorism capacity. But the actual Hezbollah members are Lebanese, and while they certainly grew up under some adverse conditions (to offer and understatement) Lebanon has never been one of your more iron-fisted Arab dictatorships.
And this from an invaluable article in Foreign Policy by Marina Ottaway and Thomas Carothers:

"Middle East Democracy Is the Cure for Islamist Terrorism"

No. This view is rooted in a simplistic assumption: Stagnant, repressive Arab regimes create positive conditions for the growth of radical Islamist groups, which turn their sights on the United States because it embodies the liberal sociopolitical values that radical Islamists oppose. More democracy, therefore, equals less extremism.

History tells a different story. Modern militant Islam developed with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s, during the most democratic period in that country's history. Radical political Islam gains followers not only among repressed Saudis but also among some Muslims in Western democracies, especially in Europe. The emergence of radical Islamist groups determined to wreak violence on the United States is thus not only the consequence of Arab autocracy. It is a complex phenomenon with diverse roots, which include U.S. sponsorship of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s (which only empowered Islamist militants); the Saudi government's promotion of radical Islamic educational programs worldwide; and anger at various U.S. policies, such as the country's stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the basing of military forces in the region....

The experience of countries in different regions makes clear that terrorist groups can operate for sustained periods even in successful democracies, whether it is the Irish Republican Army in Britain or the ETA (Basque separatists) in Spain. The ETA gained strength during the first two decades of Spain's democratization process, flourishing more than it had under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. In fragile democratic states - as new Arab democracies would likely be for years - radical groups committed to violence can do even more harm, often for long periods, as evidenced by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, or the Maoist rebels in Nepal.
Therefore, I believe that overall Marc's willingness to employ military intervention follows from a flawed set of premises regarding how quickly and to what totality democracy can neutralize terrorism - especially in light of his critique of the use of soft power as too time consuming. I also think he completely ignored the issue of cost in terms of economic and military assets and political capital at home and abroad.

There are other minor issues that I could raise with Marc's post, like the fact that he attributes too much to Western media in terms of promoting anti-Americanism and not enough to actual US policies that wouldn't be popular no matter what the Times' editorial page said (read: for example, Newsweek's gaffe did less to spark anger than did actual US policies, as listed by conservative columnist Anne Applebaum, that sought to exploit the religious proclivities of detainees, as well as the actual incidents of Koran mishandling that the Army acknoweldged. Not to mention, say, Israel.). And that he takes as fact the somewhat dubious assumption that the inspections/sanctions regime in Iraq would have inevitably expired (and I suppose we were helpless to alter this course). But I believe that the above represents the most substantive and basic points of divergence (against the backdrop of two people that believe in the mission of democracy, and probably agree on more than we disagree on).

[Update: Marc's first rebuttal is up, and I would recommend it to all. He makes some very good counterpunches that I will have to try to address tomorrow (or tonight). He also composes a valuable introductory, point by point recounting of where and on what we agree. Reading that list makes me realize that we really are closer in opinion than the above might suggest, and I don't want to create an impression otherwise.]

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