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Democracy Was Never Going to Stop Islamist Terrorism

2 51 17
17.09.2021

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has made plenty of mistakes in the post-9/11 era, but it deserves credit for its public, if sometimes messy, effort in recent years to learn lessons. Academics, policy experts, practitioners, and journalists have been having a robust debate conducted in journal articles, books, op-eds, and panels about the United States’ role in the world. One of the issues at the center of that reckoning has been democracy promotion in the Middle East.

Democracy promotion was an issue that received a lot of attention in the early 2000s after the 9/11 attacks, faded for a while, and then came back with the uprisings that toppled four Arab dictators and threatened a number of others before waning again with the resurgence of authoritarianism. So what has the United States learned about democracy promotion in the years since 9/11? Not as much as it perhaps should have.

Not long after the attacks, many within the foreign-policy community began thinking about whether there was a connection between the political systems of the hijackers’ home countries and a propensity for extremism. With the exception of rhetorical flourishes about “promot[ing] a vision of a more democratic and prosperous region,” the United States had mostly been focused on protecting its core regional interests—ensuring the free flow of oil, helping to ensure Israeli security, maintaining U.S. dominance, promoting counter-terrorism, and preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—through partnerships with friendly regional authoritarians. Egypt enjoyed a strategic relationship (whatever that is) with the United States because then-President Hosni Mubarak kept the Suez Canal open, upheld the peace treaty with Israel, and kept his boot on the necks of the Islamists.

The U.S. foreign-policy establishment has made plenty of mistakes in the post-9/11 era, but it deserves credit for its public, if sometimes messy, effort in recent years to learn lessons. Academics, policy experts, practitioners, and journalists have been having a robust debate conducted in journal articles, books, op-eds, and panels about the United States’ role in the world. One of the issues at the center of that reckoning has been democracy promotion in the Middle East.

Democracy promotion was an issue that received a lot of attention in the early 2000s after the 9/11........

© Foreign Policy


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