After London


One facet of the foiled London bombing is that the Brits succeeded. They succeeded through good intelligence - not dumb torture or invading countries. And this raises a broader question that deserves wider debate. A reader writes:

I generally agree with your post regarding the lack of a clear Democratic proposal to reform the Middle East. To take a step back, though, is it not a valid question to ask whether such reform is possible, at least in a broad sense and in a matter of years rather than decades? Your framing of the issue implies that any foreign policy agenda that does not include an ambitious reform effort is inherently defeatist here you seem to follow the RNC line and it is unclear, to me at least, what proportion of such an agenda you believe should rely on military force. Your comment emphasizes the need to use American soft power, but is the willingness to apply military force also a necessary ingredient? 

Would you be satisfied by a Democratic agenda, or a Democratic candidate in 2008, supporting political and economic reform and extensive counter-terrorism measures but recognizing that the use of military force in the conventional sense is likely to have limited value and much more downside than up? Iran is a difficult issue here, to be sure, but even the Bush administration seems to recognize that the military options is an invitation to apocalypse. Such a policy would of course model Baker/Scowcroft ‘mainstream’ Republican thought pre-9/11, with a heightened sense of the need to support measures counteracting radical Islamic fundamentalism and jihadist groups. Is such a policy squishy and weak, or is it simply realistic? 

My own view has adjusted over the last few years, though not changed dramatically. The Iraq fiasco has shown the enormous difficulty of using blunt force to create an organic democratic change in a few years. But the future is not written yet - and the Scowcroftian policies of propping up fast-failing  dictatorships (a policy that gave us the first Islamist government in Iran) was clearly insufficient after 9/11. So call me a chastened neocon, if you must: appalled by the execution, humbled by the unintended consequences, but still unable to surrender the belief that more democracy and liberal institutions in the Middle East is the only long-term solution.

What does this mean in practice? Redeployment within Iraq to regions where we truly can encourage democracy and prosperity, like Kurdistan. More "soft" support for democratic movements in the Muslim world - the kind of backing we gave Eastern European dissidents in the Cold War - is essential, if done subtly enough not to prompt backlash. Encouraging the entrepreneurial Gulf states to grow in wealth and influence cannot hurt; a serious non-carbon energy policy at home is part of the mix as well. The credible threat of military force is also vital - especially as far as Iran's regime is concerned. And a much more credible homeland defense policy. If the Democrats could present a multi-faceted, hard-nosed approach to winning the war, a lot of us in the middle would give them a second look. But so far, not so good. I'm waiting for a leading Democratic nominee to pill a Sistah Souljah on the anti-war left, to call them on their irresponsibility and narcissism. Gore could do it. The question is: when will he start talking like a future war-president rather than an angry dissident?

(Photo: Jon Super/AP.)