[T]errorists have managed to strike us, repeatedly, from within our own 230-year-old democracy (where they have managed to plot for years without detection before attacking). The beach heads for the 9/11 plot were in Hamburg and Madrid. The current hotspots are in London, Paris, Milan and Amsterdam. Check out yesterday's Wall Street Journal op-ed by Swapan Dasgupta about India's emerging terrorist nightmare — it's homegrown.
We didn't start the Marshall Plan in 1944. We defeated the enemy first; then we built democracies. Defeating the enemy is democracy's best shot. Democracy is a desirable REPLACEMENT for dysfunctional regimes; it is not a viable WEAPON against terrorism. Telling people that it is does not level with them honestly about what it is going to take to win this war.
If a liberal Democrat president were arguing that we were going to defeat terrorism by democratizing the globe, we would be scoffing about pie-in-the-sky and Kool-aid gulping.
The great strength of free society for national security purposes is that when it comes time to fight, free societies are capable of fighting better, and tend to fight better, than authoritarian societies. Compare, for example, U.S.S.R. v. Afghanistan (about 10 years beginning in 1979) with U.S.A. v. Afghanistan (about 10 minutes in 2001). That is why democracy is a great national security strategy in a threat environment where the major concern is OTHER COUNTRIES. People who have territory and regime-comforts to defend don't want to mess with democracies, so they don't.
But until such time as democracies realize it is time to fight, much of what we love about democracy is tailor-made for exploitation by transnational terrorist networks. Fledgling democracies, in particular, are vulnerable here.
New democracies are chaotic — struggling to find and assemble leaders, parties, platforms, and security. Terrorist networks are well organized, rigorously disciplined, and able to demonstrate to voters that they can project power. They are thus well-suited to excel at the procedural aspects of democracy — like campaigns, elections, getting out the vote, etc. That's a big part of why you have to kill them as a force to be reckoned with before you start democratically sorting out who is going to be put in charge.
In any event, like you, I believe firmly in the virtues of democracy. But at a certain point you have to take stock of what they are and what they aren't. I am not going to delude myself, against the overwhelming evidence of sense, that the fact of democracy's taking root — whether it is nascent or centuries old — protects a nation's security from the type of enemy by which we are confronted today. How much more proof of that do you need?
My only rejoinders to that would be these:
Democracy is not the same thing as having an election, even a free one. Voting for your next tyrant is not democracy.
Democratizing the Middle East is a long-term strategy--very long term. Look how long we spent on Germany and Japan. Democratizing the Middle East doesn't win today's war--it prevents tomorrow's.