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Terror and Democracy

Brian Ulrich comments on my earlier post on this subject:

Iraq and Syria don't produce domestic terrorists because the level of state surveillance is so pervasive nothing could really get organized. Beyond that, people turn to terrorism as a tactic because they can't achieve their goals through other means. If you want your dictatorship to be a theocracy, you don't have the ballot box option. 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.
I agree. The best way to eradicate terrorism (construed as a non-state phenomenon) is to erect an all-pervasive semi-totalitarian dictatorship. Short of that, establishing true democracy undercuts some of terrorism's appeal by providing alternative methods of seeking political change. But people 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 less the virtues of totalitarianism (I trust we can agree that an expansion of the Syria Model isn't the way to move forward) than 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.

January 24, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Or Northern Ireland, or Spain, which have rather greater terrorist track records than France does. As do Germany and Italy.

Posted by: John Isbell | Jan 24, 2005 2:00:04 PM

I trust we can agree that an expansion of the Syria Model isn't the way to move forward

You are casually dismissing the only solution that's being pursued by the US government for the last 60 years everywhere: installing semi-totalitarian client regimes.

Without it you have no solution, and I noticed you aren't offering any. There is no way to maintain an empire without maintaining at least semi-totalitarian regimes in the client states. The natural solution is to conquer 'rogue' semi-totalitarian regimes and convert them into semi-totalitarian client states. Like if you didn't know.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 24, 2005 2:28:06 PM

Timothy McVeigh

Posted by: Eduardo | Jan 24, 2005 2:28:10 PM

Ulirich fails to recognize that the non-democratic instincts of ethnic minorities is a result of the totalitarian regime itself. When democracy takes hold, ethnic and relgious minorities with separtist ambitions start to weigh the cost of endless armed conflict vs. participating in democratic institutions. Many times, they will find that participation is better for them than conflict. Remember, their preferences are shaped as a response to regime in power and the institutions available to them. When those change radically, these groups just might change as well. It will be interesting to see how this manifests itself in Iraq.

Posted by: Ronnie | Jan 24, 2005 2:40:17 PM

"But people 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."

But surely they can be undercut by it. The point, I think, should be that a balanced set of approaches on numerous fronts is necessary. Political liberalization is necessary over the long hall, but it isn't sufficient.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 24, 2005 2:55:52 PM

Thanks, Eduardo. Just to emphasize the point, until 9-11, OKC was the biggest terror attack ever in the US.3.5 years later, it remains #2. Furthermore, #3-10 are also domestic terror (except WTC 1), and most came from the Right. Listen to the rhetoric of the hard right in the Great Plains, and you hear people who feel massively disenfranchised, because even the hardest-right Republicans won't (publicly) sign on for anti-miscegenation, immigration rollback, and other hobbyhorses of that not-insignificant bloc.

I can't help but note that one risk of democracy in a society with extremist undercurrents is the potential electoral ascendancy of extremists.

Representative DeLay, Senator Inhofe, your offices are calling....

Posted by: JRoth | Jan 24, 2005 3:55:30 PM

What about the straight forward and empirical solution of democratically elected regimes crushing marginal political actors that resort to violence? Abb1, who is often so wrong, is correct that many existing authoritarian states are the agents of American imperialism. But it should also be noted that those who whinced loudest at the president's speech also advocate most vocally for the preservation of these strong men. And it is in this context that I find it remarkable that the Democratic party is now migrating to neoscowcroftism and realpolik. Does anyone remember the 1992 presidential campaign when President Clinton blasted the first Bush for his silence on the Tianmen square massacre? Today his old aide, Sidney Blumenthal, writes long defenses of the national security adviser responsible for this abdication of moral authority. John Kerry tells the Washington Post in August that his administration would not emphasize democracy in the Middle East. Barak Obamma asks Condi Rice exactly why American ought to oppose tyranny. We are no doubt through the looking glass.

Posted by: Eli Lake | Jan 24, 2005 4:14:16 PM

What about the straight forward and empirical solution of democratically elected regimes crushing marginal political actors that resort to violence? Abb1, who is often so wrong, is correct that many existing authoritarian states are the agents of American imperialism. But it should also be noted that those who whinced loudest at the president's speech also advocate most vocally for the preservation of these strong men. And it is in this context that I find it remarkable that the Democratic party is now migrating to neoscowcroftism and realpolik. Does anyone remember the 1992 presidential campaign when President Clinton blasted the first Bush for his silence on the Tianmen square massacre? Today his old aide, Sidney Blumenthal, writes long defenses of the national security adviser responsible for this abdication of moral authority. John Kerry tells the Washington Post in August that his administration would not emphasize democracy in the Middle East. Barak Obamma asks Condi Rice exactly why American ought to oppose tyranny. We are no doubt through the looking glass.

Posted by: Eli Lake | Jan 24, 2005 4:14:17 PM

In the last NYT Magazine there is a story on violent -- perhaps terrorist -- movements in democratic Bangladesh, where they operate with relative impunity because they have some support in the government. They attack religious minorities, Communists and other non-conformists, and vow to turn Bangladesh into "second Afghanistan", meaning the rule of Taliban.

Similar phenomenons can be also observed in Indonesia.

Posted by: piotr | Jan 24, 2005 4:19:45 PM

Does anyone remember the 1992 presidential campaign when President Clinton blasted the first Bush for his silence on the Tianmen square massacre?

So what?

I'm absolutely positive no one sane thought we should invade China over Tianmen.

The reason no one wants to listen to you blather on about "freedom" is that Islam Karimov can be a "reformer" depending on what sort of byzantine diplomatic manuevering the Great Game needs or Satan Incarnate by the same neocon next week if need be.

Maybe from the inside you can't even feel the doublethink anymore but to those who haven't drank the kool-aid we tend to notice when someone bleeds rivers for Chechens and genocide for Palestinians and take note that just maybe they are sort of full of shit about how much they love freedom or whatever you guys are selling these days.

Posted by: absynthe | Jan 24, 2005 4:32:16 PM

Oh, Eli, you are so full of crap.

Look, the mainstream Democratic position (the one that would have prevailed in a Kerry administration led by Biden and Holbrooke) is essentially that of Acheson and Truman -- support for a strong military, support for multilateral institutions and alliances, a justified skepticism about grandiose efforts to remake the world in America's image, and support for international aid efforts and democratic movements.

Your position is some kind of strange unilateralist Wilsonianism channeling Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In case you haven't noticed, it has already started falling apart and provoked the nascent development of countervailing alliances. As we've seen, the Iranian regime has only been bolstered by the policies you so ardently advocate.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 24, 2005 4:50:50 PM

I should add: the idea that the Bush administration really means what it says regarding spreading democracy is a complete farce, anyway. Ultimately, the yawning gap between its rhetoric and the reality of its policies will hurt us. A pity you can't see that, Eli.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 24, 2005 4:56:14 PM

As usual, Absynthe, you prove impervious to reason. If you think Israel is committing today a "genocide" against Palestinians, then there is no use in trying to persuade you of anything. You think in slogans and have trouble with word comprehension. My I recommend a dictionary. Go to some Granny D rally.

If you take the view that American foreign policy is one long unchanging story from 1945 to the present, then there are many instances of double standards to both demonize and valorize dictators. But you have missed something important. The architects of the world order you despise are the ones who hate most the president's new direction for foreign policy.

Posted by: Eli Lake | Jan 24, 2005 4:57:37 PM

Is it still too politically incorrect to talk about motives?

Conservatives don't want to talk about the motives of radical Islamists because they may actually be forced to tell the truth about America's dependence on gulf oil and the relationship of that dependence to the threat we face.

If America had a few bases in some backward central African republic without any resources to speak of - particularly resources that were the lifeblood of the American economy - and radicals from said central African republic decided to launch an attack on American soil designed to drive the American presence from their country, does anyone really believe America would not simply have packed it up and abandoned those bases, a la Reagan in Lebanon?

Liberals for the most part don't want to talk about this either, enamored as they are of their "there will always be terrorism" narrative, and fearful of being demagoged by the right as 'Merica haters.

The fact of the matter is that there were radical Islamists in Syria, and they weren't a threat to America because Washington had nothing to do with the government they hated - their government. Ditto now for Iran, whose people adore us precisely because we will have nothing to do with the government they hate, which also happens to be their government.

But whatever. There are real civilizational crises coming - peak oil, global warming - and this is all bullshit anyway. Go invade and "democratize" the mideast. The oil will mostly be gone by the time you finish your little project.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 24, 2005 5:17:47 PM


"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."


And the reason the Zarker is so dead set against democracy is that unlike a dictatorship democracy offers would be recruits other avenues to change society. Further democracy gives a very large part of the population a stake in opposing rule by the armed thugs.

Posted by: abdul abulbul amir | Jan 24, 2005 6:54:06 PM

Who are we to lecture anyone about democracy after the last 2 elections?

Posted by: GlennK | Jan 24, 2005 7:10:39 PM

Who are we to lecture anyone about democracy after the last 2 elections?

Posted by: GlennK | Jan 24, 2005 7:13:14 PM

This Zarqawi guy is suspiciously verbose, and as elusive as a genie. Whenever the US-Allawi government is in a propaganda pinch, along he comes to with another communique to substantiate their claims and play the role of ideal enemy. And when they attack some safe house that he is reputed to occupy, they always manage to "just miss him." Amazing.

Does anybody here have any solid information about the provenance of these missives from Emmanuel al-Goldstein al-Zarwawi? I can't read Arabic myself.

Even to the extent that he is the real thing, taking the news reports at face value, he seems to be only one relatively minor player in the insurgency, an interloping foreign attention-seeker in a huge crowd of homegrown fighters of many persuasions. The ratio of Zarqawi-impact to Zarqawi-talk seems rather small.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Jan 24, 2005 7:22:15 PM

essentially that of Acheson and Truman -- ... a justified skepticism about grandiose efforts to remake the world in America's image

This the same Truman under whose Administration we engaged in the largest nation-building endeavor of all time (something called the Marshall Plan)? Same Truman who said "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

Just curious - maybe there was some other Truman you are thinking of... because the Truman I'm thinking of had some pretty grandiose efforts.

Posted by: Al | Jan 24, 2005 7:43:13 PM

Interestingly enough, Truman was successful.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 24, 2005 7:44:07 PM

Interestingly enough, Truman was successful.

Yep. Only took 45 years to win the Cold War. Funny how so many lefties whine when Bush hasn't won this war in 3.

Posted by: Al | Jan 24, 2005 8:09:29 PM

The purpose of encouraging political liberalization is not to convince guys like Zarqawi to abandon the tactic of terrorism. The purpose is to allow other forms of political expression, so that the majority of people are steered away from fanaticism and jihad as means of political expression. I'd say that's worked pretty well in Ireland and Spain.

On a purely tactical note, there's many valid liberal critiques of this war, but I'm not sure that trying to undermine the case for democratization is where we want to go. To put it another way, watching Democrats respond to the president's speech with verbal broadsides against the real value of democracy has been one of the more depressing post-election episodes for American liberalism.

Idealism is our fucking issue and we shouldn't surrender it to them.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Jan 24, 2005 8:21:11 PM

Actually, Al, Truman saved Europe from a communist takeover, set up the broad framework of Globalization II and the Western Alliance, and had more-or-less helped Germany and Japan back on their feet and on our side by the end of '52. The Korean War was a wash, but it was also the trigger that turned Japan's economy around.

By contrast, Bush hasn't captured the two top leaders of Al Qaeda, invaded a country that had no nuclear weapons and got us into a messy counterinsugency operation that has become a new Islamic grievance and a training ground for the next generation of jihadis. The GMEI was DOA. Meanwhile Russia and China have become strategic partners, Latin America has begun to backslide, and the hardliners in Iran are ascendant and about to get nuclear weapons.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 24, 2005 9:59:49 PM

Jonathan Dworkin is absolutely right. I'm a fan of your blog Praktike, but what campaign were you watching? In the first debate, John Kerry quoted the president's father about the imprudence of removing Saddam from power in 1991. That decision allowed Saddam to use his remaining helicopters to put down the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq. At one point Kerry told ABC news about his secret diplomatic plan to bring in the armies of Iraq's autocratic neighbors to replace American troops. Kerry chastised the bush administration for not trading MEK terrorists for al-Qaeda terrorists with Iran. These are not the actions or statements of a Truman democrat. The legacy of Truman today belongs to the neocons, who believe we have no choice but to support liberals as a front line against Islamofascism in the same way Truman believed we had to support Greek and Turkish liberals against the reds. Now I'm not saying that all democrats don't see the necessity of advancing freedom in this manner. But for the most part the party on foreign policy is divided into two camps. You have the inheritors of Henry Wallace progressivism in Moveon, who like their predecessors basically say there is no role for America abroad in the war on terror. And you have the Rand Beers--Richard Clarke tough guys who wish Bush would shut about freedom and get on with the business of sending al-Qaeda terrorists to Saudi Arabia where another government can torture our enemies. That wing, clearly the most influential one in the Kerry campaign, is the inheritor of Bush I style coalition building. I doubt President Truman would approve of either.

Posted by: Eli Lake | Jan 24, 2005 10:40:58 PM

The decision to leave Saddam in power and the decision to allow him to use helicopters in the southern no-fly zone were two different things.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Jan 24, 2005 10:57:16 PM

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