Democracy, Democratization, and the War on Terror

John Ikenberry responds to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s thoughts about the war on terror and shifts in the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

“I agree with Anne-Marie that the Bush administration has turned its war on terror into a campaign for democracy and freedom. I think it did so for two reasons. 

The first is tactical — it is a legitimation strategy aimed at a very real political crisis.  The Bush administration hoped that its original justifications for going to war against Iraq — disarmament and liberation — would vindicate its risky and controversial decision. The facts on the ground in Iraq — i.e. the ends — would justify the means. Instead, the failure to find WMD or a grateful people in the streets only intensified the domestic and global opposition to Bush’s essentially unilateral and preventive use of force.

. . .

It is doubtful that President Bush would have rolled out the neo-Wilsonian democracy and freedom rhetoric in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses if the war in Iraq had gone better.  It is an effort to provide an explanation — or master narrative — for what he has done when all the other explanations and narratives failed. The emperor’s wardrobe was empty — he needed new clothes.

There is a second — more substantive — reason for the Bush administration’s turn from the war on terrorism to the campaign for democracy and freedom. This has to do with the political-intellectual problem of figuring out how to cope with the threat of extremist violence itself. To its credit, the Bush administration has done the world a favor by dramatizing the threats which might emerge from the dangerous nexus of WMD, tyrannical states, and terrorist groups.  Looking into the future, it seems all too clear that small groups of angry and determined extremists will find it increasingly easy to obtain chemical, biological or nuclear capabilities and unleash them upon the civilized world.   

. . .

What this means is that troubled and undeveloped parts of the world that previously could be ignored or engaged for humanitarian purposes are now potential havens, catalysts, or launching sites for transnational violence. National security increasingly requires a ‘one world’ vision in which the slogan must be: No country or region left behind.”