The Fukuyama-Garfinkle Muddle on Terrorism and Fostering Democracy

December 31, 2008

[First published Aapril 6, 2006] Francis Fukuyama And Adam Garfinkle wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal titled “A Better Idea”. They argue, “Promote democracy and prevent terrorism–but don’t conflate the two.”

Professor Fukuyama currently Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International_Political_Economy and Director of the International Development Program at the Johns_Hopkins_University”Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is best known for his, The End of History and the Last Man. Professor Garfinkle is editor of the American Interest, and has taught U.S. foreign policy and Middle East politics at the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and Tel Aviv University.

Any op-ed by such high-powered academics is worth reading, thinking about, and responding to, which I will do seriatim. They wrote:

The Wall Street Journal recently asked: “Anyone out there have a better idea” than the Bush administration’s policy of high-profile democracy promotion in the Arab and Muslim worlds as a means to fight terrorism? Well, yes, there is one. That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now.

RJR: Promoting democracy and fighting terrorism are one in the same. Democracies do not as a matter of policy promote or sponsor terrorism, understood as murdering unarmed and innocent men, women, and children to promote a political or religious cause.

The essential problem with the administration’s approach is that it conflates two issues that are separate. The first has to do with violent, antimodern radical Islamism (on display both in the reaction to the Danish cartoons and in the mosque bombing in Samarra); the second concerns the dysfunctionality of political and social institutions in much of the Arab world.

RJR: The answer to both is still democracy, as many Arab liberals, to their personal endangerment, have been trying to point out. On this, see Barry Rubin’s, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.

It is, of course, the administration’s thesis that the latter condition causes the former. It is also its contention that U.S. Cold War policies of support for Arab “friendly tyrants” are mainly to blame for Arab authoritarianism. Thus did the president say in November 2003–since repeated several times by Condoleezza Rice–that we sacrificed freedom for stability in the Middle East for 60 years, and got neither.

RJR: I agree with Bush and Rice on this.

It follows from this view that if the United States stops supporting authoritarian regimes and instead does all it prudently can to bring about democratic ones, our terrorist problem will be dramatically reduced if not altogether solved.

RJR: Yes, I think terrorism would be sharply reduced, but not necessarily solved, although that is possible also.

Authoritarian political cultures do function as enablers of radical Islamism, but the essential cause of the latter–today as before, in dozens of historical cases concerning violent millenarian movements–is the difficulty that some societies and individuals have in coming to terms with social change. That is why rapid modernization is likely to produce more short-term radicalism, not less.

Muslims in democratic Europe are as much a part of this problem as those in the Middle East. This is not a trivial point; it is a central one that directly challenges a key tenet of the administration’s view.

What the administration sees as one problem ought to be seen as two. Radical Islamism needs to be dealt with separately from democracy promotion. This involves doing everything we can to ensure the political success of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also involves killing, capturing or otherwise neutralizing hard-core terrorists in many parts of the world, and keeping dangerous materials out of their hands, in what will look less like a war than like police and intelligence operations.

RJR: Modernization and democracy are not the same thing, but democracy is the best system for handling the stresses and strains of modernization. As to the point about Europe, the terrorism by emigrant or Muslim citizens is directed at their democratic governments, while terrorism is not supported nor knowingly encouraged by these governments. Create such democracies in Arab lands, and in time, terrorism against such governments will wither away for lack of foreign and domestic support.

Stretch one’s mind on this. Imagine that Iran, and all Arab states, are democratic. From whence, then, would the radical Islamist and terrorists come? From dissatisfied domestic Muslims? But democracies have always had dissatisfied radical non-Muslim terrorist groups of some kind, even terrorists, as for example, the radical leftists during the Cold War and bomb throwing anarchists before WWI. But, democracy has been robust enough to handle them until they disappear for want of governmental and popular support.

But the threat above all lies on the level of ideas. Just as it proved possible to stigmatize and eventually eliminate slavery from mainstream global norms without having first to wait for the mass advent of liberal democracy, it should be possible to effectively stigmatize jihadi terrorism without having first to midwife democracies from Morocco to Bangladesh. The United States and its Western allies should be helping genuine, traditional and pious Muslims to reassert their dominance over a beautiful and capacious religious civilization in the face of a well-financed assault by extremist thugs.

RJR: Beautiful and capacious religious civilization? This is multiculturalism rearing its blind and wooly head. Nothing beautiful about a civilization that largely supports the outright murder of people en masse because they are non-Muslims, or secular Muslims. This is an aspect of Islam, as currently practiced in Arab nations. Anyway, this seems to ignore that the authoritarian Arab dictatorships use the Islamists to fight foreign pressure for liberalization, and to continue to repress their people.

….To put it mildly, the Iraq war has not increased the prestige of the U.S. and American ideas like liberal democracy in the Middle East.

RJR: Of course, the thug regimes, and those that through corruption and rich appointments hugely benefit from them, do not like the war, nor do the Islamists and terrorists. Nonetheless, the process of democratization of the Iraqi people has generated considerable questioning of the status quo by the people, and a movement toward democracy that had not existed before.

….The Bush administration has indeed opened up new space for debate and political participation in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But recent elections in Iran, Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq have either brought to power or increased the prestige of profoundly illiberal groups like Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood; even our putative friends in the Shiite alliance that did well in last December’s Iraqi elections have been busy institutionalizing an intolerant Islamist order in the parts of Iraq they control.

Administration principals speak of creating public space for dissent and debate lest it all be driven into the mosque, with the risk that this “might” bring illiberal groups into power. The tide of public opinion today is not running in favor of pro-Western secular liberals, however, but rather the Islamists. In many Arab countries this means that premature democratic elections will most definitely and predictably bring the mosque into the public square while driving out all other forms of expression. The tolerant are making democratic way for the intolerant, who in turn are very likely to block the possibility of any reverse flow of authority. How such dynamics promote liberal democracy in the longer run is hard to see. More likely, U.S. policies that foster pro-Islamist outcomes will delay political liberalization, help the wrong parties in the great debates ongoing in Muslim societies and, quite possibly therefore, make our terrorist problem worse.

RJR: I’m surprised that Fukuyama buys into this. Where before in the Middle East there were bloody thug regimes, mass murder, the persecution of liberals, and no freedom of speech, there have now been elections in a number of Arab countries, the establishment of parliaments, and some democratization. This is a long process that may involve two-steps forward a one-step back, as it did in the growth of democracy in the United State, Britain, and France.

We need to change tactics in the way we go about supporting Middle Eastern democracy. The administration’s highly visible embrace of democracy promotion as a component of its national security strategy (as outlined in last week’s official document on the subject), and its telegraphing ahead of time of intentions to bring about regime change in places like Iran, only hurt the cause of real democrats in the region. The effort to push countries toward early national elections, given the rising Islamist tide today, will invariably force us into the appearance of further hypocrisy when they produce results we don’t like.

RJR: There is nothing in democratic theory that says we should like the outcome of democratic elections. If the results are another Hamas win, so be it. The people have spoken, and that is what democracy elections are about.

Islamist parties in Egypt and Palestine have gained popularity in large measure not because of their foreign policy views, but because of their stress on domestic social welfare issues like education, health, and jobs, and their stand against corruption. Fine, let them deliver; and if they don’t or turn out to be corrupt themselves, they will face vulnerabilities of their own not far down the road.

RJR: This is my argument as well, but what Fukuyama and Garfinkle seem not to see is the inconsistency of this with much of what they write previously.

Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.

RJR: Rather, I must say that Fukuyama and Garfinkle are the ones muddled in their thinking on this. This is especially true because they fail to understand:

The role and power of the Arab and Iranian thug regimes in terrorism
The terrorists utter long run dependence on the support of these thug regimes.
The power of democratic freedom to end war, internal violence, and democide.
The effect of the ongoing democratization of Iraq and Bush’s Forward Strategy of Freedom on thug regimes in the Middle East, and particularly in helping liberal Arabs fight for freedom.