The Asymmetrical Offense

The recent impulse for democratization has surprised and delighted the West as oppressive regimes thought untouchable have suddenly rethought their strategies in the face of popular discontent. The most dramatic example would be Egypt and Lebanon, two countries which suffered under some of the most constraining dictatorships in Middle East after the departure of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The two controlling regimes, Mubarak and Assad in Syria, have reacted in opposite directions, at least at first, but the movements have continued to pressure for democracy regardless. They join with the popular will of the Iraqis, the Afghanis, and even a watered-down impulse of the Palestinians. Even Saudi Arabia has a nascent democratization program, and Iran has had street demonstrations for the past two years or more demanding freedom.
The wave of democratization promises to free the Muslim world from the grip of kleptocracies and mullahcracies, a welcome development all on its own. However, it also does something else that we have mostly missed: it creates a multi-front war for Islamofascists that threatens to exhaust their resources.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan saw that the Soviet Union had no economic capacity for an extended struggle and that “peaceful coexistence” only benefitted the Soviets, as it allowed them to conserve scarce capital resources for life support. Reagan initiated an economic war with the Kremlin designed to bankrupt them by not only escalating our defense spending, but encouraging democracy movements wherever the Soviets had taken control. He openly supported Solidarity, putting pressure on the Soviets through Poland and encouraging the Baltic states to awaken, and he took on the Sandanistas in Central America, forcing them eventually to hold real elections — and out of power.
George Bush looks to have done the same thing. After decapitating the Taliban, he deprived al-Qaeda of its safehouse. Removing Saddam Hussein gave Bush the military high ground in Southwest Asia, but the elections in both countries created a new, philosophical front that directly opposed that of the Islamofascists. Terrorists still operate within Iraq and to a lesser degree Afghanistan, but now their war on democracy has suddenly sprouted into a five-front war: Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and even Syria, where activists have begun to stir for the first time since the slaughter at Hama.
How many fronts can AQ and its affiliates fight at once? And if Lebanon and Egypt transform successfully into fairly liberal democracies, can they continue their philosophical battle with the West with any credibility for the purple-finger majorities? It’s doubtful, since the elimination of the dictatorships will simultaneously create a more moderate electorate and eliminate the main source of funding and protection for the terrorist groups.
George Bush’s strategy of democratization doesn’t just relate to moral values; it creates an asymmetrical offense to combat the asymmetrical warfare of the terrorists. He intends to economically and philosophically bankrupt our enemies in much the same way Reagan did with the Soviet Union. And while the wave has just started to gain momentum, it looks hopeful that Bush may well succeed in doing so.
Note: I’ve updated this to be more concise about the term “Southwest Asia”, an area which may include Egypt politically but obviously not geographically.

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