As the head of the world's only hyperpower, I am committed to democracy in the Muslim world. I have said many times that democracy is the antidote to terrorism. Yesterday the Islamist candidates swept the municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, and I am worried that Hamas will win the July 17 national elections in Palestine and that Hezbollah will dominate Lebanon. Should I forget about democracy?
Perplexed on the Potomac
Let them elect anyone they want, but make clear that you will deal harshly with hostile governments. Perhaps you worry too much about whether people like you. You should focus on your successes, for example, the fact that terrorists have not staged a major attack on your country since September 11, 2001. I am not privy to such matters, but I do not believe this is true because your country's intelligence services have successfully infiltrated the terrorist organizations. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times argued in dead seriousness that the terrorists did not attack your country because all of them went to fight in Iraq. That would be the silliest thing Friedman ever wrote, that is, if Friedman had not written so many other silly things.
You forestalled further terrorist attacks on the US simply by invading Iraq and overthrowing its government. Terrorists cannot work effectively without supporters inside governments to provide them with weapons, passports, intelligence, safe haven, and so forth. Middle Eastern governments are not quite governments in the Western sense. They resemble hotels that rent rooms to paying customers of varying persuasions. One has to hold the hotel manager accountable for what goes in inside the rooms.
An entire government might not support terrorism, but terrorist sympathizers are ensconced within the military and intelligence services of most Middle Eastern states. One never knows just who these sympathizers might be; your spies do not know and are not likely to find out. Whether Saddam Hussein personally supported al-Qaeda is irrelevant. He indulged enough nasty creatures in his intelligence menagerie such that al-Qaeda obtained resources from Iraq where necessary. The same is true of other governments.
The old maxim applies, "Beat your children every day. If you do not know what they did wrong, they do." Your critics complain that you acted in the absence of precise intelligence. Just the opposite is true. In the absence of precise intelligence, the optimal course of action is to overthrow a suspect government. Any government will do. Syria or Iran might have done as well as Iraq. As long as the governments of the Muslim world believe that you will tear them limb from limb if they support terrorism, they will behave.