Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does Increasing Democracy Undercut Terrorists?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does Increasing Democracy Undercut Terrorists?

Article excerpt

According to President Bush, one of the reasons he went to war in Iraq was to transform the Middle East through democracy. The roots of terrorism in the Middle East were seen as growing out of the undemocratic nature of the regimes in the region. Removing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and creating democracy in Iraq would address the root causes of terrorism.

Does increasing democracy diminish terrorism? Some analysts are skeptical. Violent extremists exist in nearly all societies. After all, the terrorist attacks in London were carried out by British citizens in one of the world's oldest democracies. And Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen, carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. Moreover, skeptics argue that even if democracy might reduce terrorist recruitment, the Iraq war was the wrong means to promote democracy, and may have increased the recruitment of new terrorists.

To be fair, it is still too early to give a definitive answer to these questions. A historical assessment of the Iraq war and its effects on the Middle East will take a decade or more. The January Iraq election was a positive step for the region.

As Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader said, "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq." Columnist David Brooks observed, "If there is one soft power gift that America does possess, it is the tendency to imagine new worlds."

With the invasion of Iraq and his increased rhetoric of democracy, Mr. Bush transformed the status quo. In the past six months, there have been national elections in Lebanon and local elections in Saudi Arabia. Egypt has amended its constitution to allow its presidential election to be contested. Moderate steps have been taken in Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco. Some of these things would have occurred without the Iraq war; some might not have.

Democracy, however, requires the tolerance of minorities and individual rights, as well as the development of effective institutions for the resolution of political conflicts in divided societies. It is much more than just elections. That is why the current dispute over the Iraqi constitution is so important. …

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