Terrorism and the Democracy Promotion Agenda

The U.S. democracy-promotion agenda has been both too grandly conceived and ill-executed.

When it comes to means, an over-reliance on military power, as was seen in Iraq, isn’t the only problem. Gaza is evidence that even diplomatic measures aimed at democracy promotion can go disastrously wrong, especially if elections alone are made the benchmark for measuring democratic progress. And public diplomacy and other soft power measures also come with their own difficulties.

As such, although I’m definitely an advocate of so-called “smart power,” I’ve argued occasionally that means aren’t everything. In other words, although perhaps necessary, it’s not sufficient to simply rejigger the national power toolbox. In addition, a fundamental rethinking of American strategic priorities, in light of a recognition of the limits of American power, and with a healthy respect for the obstacles to liberal democracy in some parts of the world, is necessary.

Having said all that, however, it’s hard to read the following report, from the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus, about the recent statements of al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri without recognizing that the growth of liberal democracy — and the market-based economic systems that such implies — in the Middle East would at the very least undercut the power of this kind of Islamist-populist rhetoric:

. . . Al-Zawahiri attacks the secular governments of the Arab world whom he holds responsible for the 1967 defeat and “are still destroying our societies and countries.” He refers to food shortages in Muslim nations such as Egypt, asking why such conditions exist when the Arab world’s enormous oil wealth makes the Muslim nation “the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth.”

. . . An Egyptian himself, al-Zawahiri also condemns the rule of President Hosni Mubarak and the planned succession of Mubarak’s son to the presidency: “Egypt is not a private farm belonging to Mubarak and his son.”. . .