The best way for America to win the war on terror is to make alliances with traditional Muslims to stem the influence of the radical Muslims. Traditional Muslims are the majority group in the Islamic world. They make up perhaps 65-70 percent of the population. But traditional Islam is also the recruiting pool for radical Islam. What this means is that America cannot win its battle with radical Islam simply through military means. The military strategy is indispensable, as in Iraq, but it needs to be supplemented by a political and diplomatic strategy. The reason is that no matter how many Islamic radicals America kills, the purpose is defeated if twice as many traditional Muslims sign up for the radical camp. Therefore it is indispensable for America to seek to drive a wedge between traditional Muslims and radical Muslims.
How to do this? My new book The Enemy at Home offers a comprehensive strategy. Here I want to highlight one important approach. One of the biggest concerns of traditional Muslims is that they want to live in societies that defend Muslim interests and uphold Islamic values. Currently they are not in a position to do this. The reason is that most of the regimes in the Middle East today are secular tyrannies. Some examples of this are Egypt under Mubarak, Jordan under Abdullah, and the Gulf kingdoms. American conservatives tend to support these regimes because they are pro-American, and American liberals tend to support them because they are secular.
Against secular tyranny the radical Muslims offer their own alternative: Islamic tyranny. Iran is a perfect example of this, and an Iran-style theocracy is what Bin Laden would like to see throughout the region. While traditional Muslims don’t like Islamic tyranny, they also detest secular tyranny. Given the bleak choice between these two forms of tyranny, we should not be entirely surprised that some Muslims—even traditional Muslims—might opt for Islamic tyranny. If we’re going to have tyranny, they reason, let it at least be Islamic.
So the way for America to build bridges to traditional Muslims is to cautiously and prudentially support democracy in the Middle East. I underscore the terms “cautiously” and “prudentially” because I am not calling for a global democracy initiative of the type that President Bush has previously extolled. Yes, democracy is our ideal, but that does not mean we should support democracy everywhere, or in every single case. So when should America support democracy? When it is in America’s interest to do so. Iraq is one such case. Saudi Arabia is not.