Does increasing democracy undercut terrorists? (Joseph S. Nye Jr., 9/22/05, CS Monitor)

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. […]

Democracy will not convert the current crop of extremist jihadis to peaceful change, and too rapid a transition may destabilize governments and enhance the extremists’ opportunities to wreak havoc. But over time, the slow, steady progress of democratization and freedom provides a sense of hope for the moderates.

Let’s put it this way, if it all were to end up going to heck in a handcart, no one would be able to say W didn’t give it our best shot. And if, instead, it continues to work? Well, then he’s a world historical figure.

No ‘Turning Back’ in Egypt (David Ignatius, September 21, 2005, Washington Post)

It’s hard to imagine Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a change agent. During the 24 years he has ruled this country, he has displayed a military man’s passion for stability and a corresponding wariness of democracy. His Egypt has often symbolized the political stasis of the Arab world.

But unlikely as it sounds, the 77-year-old Mubarak won reelection this month on a platform of political and economic reform. The fact that even the pharaonic Mubarak is running as a democrat illustrates the power of the reform movement in the Arab world today. The movement is potent because it’s coming from the Arab societies themselves and not just from democracy enthusiasts in Washington.

I can’t predict whether Mubarak will deliver on the promises he made during his campaign. I can see all the reasons why he should and all the reasons why he won’t. But what’s unmistakably clear in the aftermath of Egypt’s first semblance of a multi-candidate presidential election is that the country’s old authoritarian system has broken apart. I doubt Mubarak could put it back together even if he tried. […]

During several days of conversations here, I found people remarkably frank in their comments. Just as interesting, political activists across the spectrum described the situation in Egypt in similar terms. Though many see the one-sided election as a joke (Mubarak won with 88 percent of the vote), they all see Egypt as changing, and they all agree it will be hard to stop the momentum of change.

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