Authors’ note: This essay is partially based on the lecture “Democracy vs. Freedom” that Yaron Brook delivered on September 12, 2006, in Irvine, CA, and on October 22, 2006, at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston, MA.
A Strategy for Security?
The attacks of 9/11 exposed the magnitude of the threats we face, and, ever since then, one question has become a depressing fixture of our lives: Are we safe? Scarcely two years ago, many Americans believed that our salvation was imminent, for the means of achieving our security was at hand; no longer would we have to live in dread of further catastrophic attacks. These people were swept up in euphoric hope inspired by the Bush administration’s new strategy in the Middle East. The strategy promised to deliver permanent security for our nation. It promised to eradicate the fundamental source of Islamic terrorism. It promised to make us safe.
The strategy’s premise was simple: “[T]he security of our nation,” President Bush explained, “depends on the advance of liberty in other nations”;1 we bring democracy to the Middle East, and thereby make ourselves safer. To many Americans, this sounded plausible: Western nations, such as ours, are peaceful, since they have no interest in waging war except in self-defense: Their prosperity depends on trade, not on conquest or plunder; the more such nations in the world, the better off we would be. Informally, Bush called this idea the “forward strategy for freedom.”2
By January 2005, an early milestone of this strategy was manifest to all. Seemingly every news outlet showed us the images of smiling Iraqis displaying their ink-stained fingers. They had just voted in the first elections in liberated Iraq. Those images, according to breathless pundits, symbolized a momentous development.
Commentators saw reason to believe Bush’s grandiose prediction of 2003, when he declared: “Iraqi democracy will succeed—and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran—that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”3 At the summit of the Arab League in 2004, according to Reuters, Arab heads of state had “promised to promote democracy, expand popular participation in politics, and reinforce women’s rights and civil society.”4 By the spring of 2005, several Arab regimes had announced plans to hold popular elections.
Even confirmed opponents of Bush applauded the strategy. An editorial in the New York Times in March 2005, for example, declared that the “long-frozen political order seems to be cracking all over the Middle East.” The year so far had been full of “heartening surprises—each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing [chief among them being Iraq’s elections and the prospect of Egyptian parliamentary elections]. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances.”5 Senator Edward Kennedy (of all people) felt obliged to concede, albeit grudgingly, that “What’s taken place in a number of those [Middle Eastern] countries is enormously constructive,” adding that “It’s a reflection the president has been involved.”6
Washington pursued the forward strategy with messianic zeal. Iraq has had not just one, but several popular elections, as well as a referendum on a new constitution written by Iraqi leaders; with U.S. endorsement and prompting, the Palestinians held what international monitors declared were fair elections; and Egypt’s authoritarian regime, under pressure from Washington, allowed the first contested parliamentary elections in more than a decade. Elections were held as well in Lebanon (parliamentary) and Saudi Arabia (municipal). In sum, these developments seemed to indicate a salutary political awakening. The forward march toward “liberty in other nations” seemed irresistible and “the security of our nation,” inevitable.
But has the democracy crusade moved us toward peace and freedom in the Middle East—and greater security at home? . . .