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Is Democracy the Answer?

In an exchange on National Review Online (April 17), Andrew McCarthy takes Mario Loyola to task for suggesting that the Bush Doctrine is about spreading democracy. “That is just nonsense,” writes McCarthy. “The Bush Doctrine, as announced in the days after 9/11 . . . holds that jihadists are our enemies and that regimes that support their terror have the choice of being with us or against us.” It is only “revisionists,” he argues, who claim that “the Bush Doctrine means terrorism will be defeated by spreading democracy.” And this is “preposterous” since there is “is no evidence—NONE—that adopting democracy means defeating terrorism.”

On the historical record, McCarthy is wrong in claiming that promoting democracy somehow slipped into Bush’s rhetoric only in his second inaugural address. It was clearly set out in Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy (about which I wrote in COMMENTARY). But the important question is not the semantic one of whether promoting democracy deserves to be called part of the Bush Doctrine. It is whether it is a good idea for winning the war on terror.

McCarthy’s formula is inadequate. Yes, jihadists are our enemies. And, yes, we should pressure states to support us against them. But our old image of terrorism as something entirely dependent on state support is outdated.

Even more important than state sponsorship is the popular support that jihadism receives. Tens of thousands of young Muslims volunteer to be its warriors. Millions of Muslims support its activities. And even many non-supporters feel a certain understanding or sympathy for it. It is a monumentally important fact that the states of the Islamic Conference stand as a block against any blanket repudiation of terrorism. Their unswerving position is that terrorism is wrong—except if it is carried out for a good cause. Which means it is not wrong at all in principle.

What Bush recognized in repudiating 60 years of U.S. support for the Middle Eastern status quo is that we will not be safe from jihadism unless the mindset of the Middle East changes, and that we have to do whatever we can to try to precipitate such change. Jihadism is a movement that must be fought ideologically as well as militarily. As an enemy, the challenge it presents is more like that of Communism than that of Nazism.

McCarthy is right to say there is no proof that democracy will be the antidote to terrorism. But it is the best way we know to transform societies and the socialization that their citizens experience. What other strategies have been suggested? Just to declare that jihadism is our enemy is no strategy at all.