Arab democracy — possible, maybe; central, no

Yesterday, Rocket Man linked to a piece by Joshua Muravchik defending the neoconservative position that democracy is possible for Arabs and that we should lend our weight to the democratization of the Arab world. Here is what Rocket Man had to say.
My view is that democracy most likely is possible in the Arab world in the long term, and may even be possible in the short term. However, since the matter is hardly free from doubt, I don’t think that democratizing the Middle East should figure prominently in our current strategy, the focus of which must be on combatting terrorism. Rather, I believe we should support regimes that are effective in fighting terrorism and that cooperate with our efforts to do so without regard to whether they are democratic. (I see no evidence for the view that only democratic regimes can effectively fight terrorism — as far as I can tell, democracy is not a necessary condition for such a fight and, as Rocket Man suggested, may not be a sufficient condition either).
Among states that are effective and cooperative in fighting terrorism, democracies are preferable, and there may be situations, such as Iraq today, where it makes sense to indulge that preference. But we should not undermine governments that meet the anti-terrorism standard but are not democratic, and we certainly shouldn’t go to war in order to promote our preference/hope for democracy in the Arab world (going to war to remove a mass murderer like Saddam is a different issue with its own calculus). So Muravchik’s statement that we should “lend our weight to democratization in the Arab world” is true only conditionally — we should pick our spots and pick them carefully.
This issue, it seems to me, is not that much different from the one we faced during the Cold War of what our approach should be to anti-Communist strongmen and dictators. I think it’s fair to say that most of the time we accommodated them. Promoting democracy was a secondary goal and it influenced policy only to a limited extent. Some argued that “propping up” dictators served the long-term interests of the Communists, but for the most part that turned out not to have been the case. John Kennedy summarized the (sensible, I think) pragmatism of our Cold War policy in a statement about Latin America. He said that our preferences in that region were (1) democracy, (2) non-Communist dictatorships and (3) Communist dictatorships. He added that we should strive for number 1 but be willing at times to accept number 2 in order to avoid number 3.


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