In any successful war, individual battles must be fought with an eye towards the overriding objective. That is why it is so crucial that the Bush administration and the free world it hopes to mobilize clearly define the objectives in the ongoing war on terrorism.
To be sure, victory in this war will demand that the empire of terror run by scores of organizations and supported by several sovereign states be utterly destroyed.
But our goals must be far more ambitious. The democratic world must also seek to expand the very freedom our enemies want to destroy. We must use the torch of liberty they hope to extinguish to light a path toward freedom in a region where hundreds of millions still live under tyranny.
The democratic world must export freedom throughout the Middle East not only for the sake of people who live under repressive regimes, but for the sake of our own security. For only when the world is free will the world be safe.
The consequences of merely eradicating an enemy rather than building a friend were made crystal clear in the decades following World War II. In Eastern Europe, the evils of Nazism were replaced with the evils of Communism. One dictatorship replaced another and the effect was continued internal repression and external belligerence.
In contrast, democracy was forced on Germany and Japan and the result has been over 50 years of peace and stability – both within those states and in their relations with the outside world.
For non-democratic regimes, war and terror are essential to survival.
The logic of why democracies do not go to war with each other is ironclad. When political power is a function of popular will, the incentive system works towards maintaining peace and providing prosperity.
For non-democratic regimes, war and terror are essential to survival. In order to justify the internal repression that is inherent in non-democratic rule, dictators and autocrats must mobilize their nation for wars against both internal and external enemies.
Democratic leaders can be corrupt, prejudiced and xenophobic. But they will not survive long in office if they impoverish their people and sacrifice their sons in wars that are not vital to their nations’ existence. That is why war is always the last option for democratic states.
Ironically, the same reasons that incline democracies toward peace make waging war against implacable enemies all the more difficult. It is easy for democratic leaders to avoid making the difficult choice of leading a free people into battle. Compromise is always more tempting.
Winston Churchill fought the forces of compromise in Britain and rallied his country to defeat the Nazis. Ronald Reagan did much the same when he rejected decades of accommodation with the Soviet Union and sought to break the back of the Evil Empire. Both men understood that in a battle against evil there must be no concessions. And both understood that to defeat evil, one must be prepared to stand alone.
Unfortunately, despite the lessons of the past century, the spirit of expedient interest is alive and well. Its insidious logic attempts to justify including, in a coalition of freedom, regimes like Iran and Syria that actively support the very evil we wish to eradicate.
The same spirit continues to convince many that strong dictators are the key to maintaining a strong and stable peace. The decade-long misguided attempt to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace by financing and relying on Yasser Arafat’s dictatorship, instead of linking political and economic benefits to the liberalization of Palestinian society, is more than ample proof of this.
Though most policy makers understand the merits of exporting democracy in principle, few think such a policy is applicable to the Middle East. Some hide behind the veil of political expedience, arguing that championing democracy will stabilize the entire region. They say this in spite of much evidence to the contrary.
Buried beneath the concern for instability is an erroneous assumption that sees Arabs and Muslims as incapable of living under democratic rule.
I suspect, however, that buried beneath the concern for instability is an erroneous assumption that sees Arabs and Muslims as incapable of living under democratic rule.
Of course, the same nonsense was spouted about the mentality of the Soviet peoples, or the cultural differences of the Japanese. Those assessments of the unsuitability of peoples for democracy were as wrong as they are today.
What is expected from people who live under dictatorships is not that they abandon their culture, sacrifice their values, or alter their way of life. It is only that their leaders be dependent on them and that they be allowed to express their views openly. And just as was the case in Japan – a nation that had never known democracy and whose culture was said to be antithetical to the idea of popular rule – Arabs and Muslims can live in freedom and retain their unique identities.
Does that mean that the democratic world must declare war on every non-democratic regime? Certainly not. True, there are regimes that must be held directly accountable for terrorism and be defeated militarily. But if the free world subjects other regimes to economic and diplomatic pressures, and at the same time links concrete economic and political benefits to the liberalization of their societies – as it did to the former Soviet Bloc in the last years of the Cold War – then I am convinced that many nations throughout the region can be induced to begin the long march toward freedom.
I have advocated for a number of years the implementation of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. The aftermath of the war against terrorism may provide the perfect opportunity to mobilize international support for its implementation.
If the democratic world hopes to wipe the evil it saw on Sept. 11 off the face of the earth, it must not be satisfied with rooting out the network of terror. It must also plant the seeds of democracy. For only by planting those seeds today can we hope to secure our tomorrow.
This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.