Can Democracy Defeat Terrorism?

The Bush administration provided three major rationales for going to war in Iraq. Only one remains at all credible: the need to transform the Middle East through democratization and thereby undercut support for terrorists. But does this argument really have any more basis in reality than the administration’s previous claims of an “imminent” threat from weapons of mass destruction or Saddam Hussein’s alleged support for al‑Qaeda?

With post-invasion inspectors concluding that no WMD stockpiles existed, and intelligence agencies now convinced that the Iraq war’s net effect has been to boost al‑Qaeda recruitment throughout the Islamic world, the Bush administration is understandably emphasizing the claim about democratization. Indeed, it has become a dominant theme of Bush’s second term. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it in a recent speech in Cairo, “Freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division, and violence.”

Cynics view this as merely an argument of convenience, one that has gained in prominence only because the other two rationales for the war collapsed. More importantly, skeptics also doubt the validity of the administration’s argument linking democracy and reduction of terrorism. After all, British citizens in one of the world’s oldest democracies carried out the recent terrorist attacks in London. Similarly, an American citizen carried out the worst terrorist attack in the United States before September 11, 2001.

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