Authors’ note: This essay is partially based on the lecture “Democracy vs. Freedom” that Yaron Brook delivered on September 12, 2006, in Irvine, CA, and on October 22, 2006, at the Ford Hall Forum in Boston, MA.

A Strategy for Security?

The attacks of 9/11 exposed the magnitude of the threats we face, and, ever since then, one question has become a depressing fixture of our lives: Are we safe? Scarcely two years ago, many Americans believed that our salvation was imminent, for the means of achieving our security was at hand; no longer would we have to live in dread of further catastrophic attacks. These people were swept up in euphoric hope inspired by the Bush administration’s new strategy in the Middle East. The strategy promised to deliver permanent security for our nation. It promised to eradicate the fundamental source of Islamic terrorism. It promised to make us safe.

The strategy’s premise was simple: “[T]he security of our nation,” President Bush explained, “depends on the advance of liberty in other nations”;1 we bring democracy to the Middle East, and thereby make ourselves safer. To many Americans, this sounded plausible: Western nations, such as ours, are peaceful, since they have no interest in waging war except in self-defense: Their prosperity depends on trade, not on conquest or plunder; the more such nations in the world, the better off we would be. Informally, Bush called this idea the “forward strategy for freedom.”2

By January 2005, an early milestone of this strategy was manifest to all. Seemingly every news outlet showed us the images of smiling Iraqis displaying their ink-stained fingers. They had just voted in the first elections in liberated Iraq. Those images, according to breathless pundits, symbolized a momentous development.

Commentators saw reason to believe Bush’s grandiose prediction of 2003, when he declared: “Iraqi democracy will succeed—and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran—that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.”3 At the summit of the Arab League in 2004, according to Reuters, Arab heads of state had “promised to promote democracy, expand popular participation in politics, and reinforce women’s rights and civil society.”4 By the spring of 2005, several Arab regimes had announced plans to hold popular elections.

Even confirmed opponents of Bush applauded the strategy. An editorial in the New York Times in March 2005, for example, declared that the “long-frozen political order seems to be cracking all over the Middle East.” The year so far had been full of “heartening surprises—each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing [chief among them being Iraq’s elections and the prospect of Egyptian parliamentary elections]. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances.”5 Senator Edward Kennedy (of all people) felt obliged to concede, albeit grudgingly, that “What’s taken place in a number of those [Middle Eastern] countries is enormously constructive,” adding that “It’s a reflection the president has been involved.”6

Washington pursued the forward strategy with messianic zeal. Iraq has had not just one, but several popular elections, as well as a referendum on a new constitution written by Iraqi leaders; with U.S. endorsement and prompting, the Palestinians held what international monitors declared were fair elections; and Egypt’s authoritarian regime, under pressure from Washington, allowed the first contested parliamentary elections in more than a decade. Elections were held as well in Lebanon (parliamentary) and Saudi Arabia (municipal). In sum, these developments seemed to indicate a salutary political awakening. The forward march toward “liberty in other nations” seemed irresistible and “the security of our nation,” inevitable.

But has the democracy crusade moved us toward peace and freedom in the Middle East—and greater security at home? . . .


Acknowledgment: The authors would like to thank Dr. Onkar Ghate, senior fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute, for his invaluable editorial assistance with this project.

1 President Addresses American Legion, Discusses Global War on Terror, February 24, 2006,

2 The administration has referred to it both as a “forward strategy of freedom” and as a “forward strategy for freedom.” For instance, President Bush, State of the Union address, January 20, 2004; and, President Addresses American Legion, February 24, 2006.

3 President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East, November 6, 2003,

4 Reuters, “Most Arab Leaders Survive to See Another Summit,” New York Times, March 27, 2006.

5 “Mideast Climate Change,” New York Times, March 1, 2005.

6 Tyler Marshall, “Changes in Mideast Blunt Bush’s Critics,” Los Angeles Times (published in Boston Globe), March 7, 2005,

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7 Ari Z. Weisbard, “Militants at the Crossroads,” The Nation (web edition), April 24, 2003,

8 Jeffrey Bartholet, “How Al-Sadr May Control U.S. Fate in Iraq,” Newsweek, December 4, 2006; “Pentagon: Militia More Dangerous Than al Qaeda in Iraq,” CNN, December 19, 2006.

9 Michael R. Gordon and Dexter Filkins, “Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq,” New York Times, November 28, 2006.

10 President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership, June 24, 2002,

11 Ramsay Short, “Key Job for ‘Terrorist’ Hizbollah in Lebanon’s New Cabinet,” Daily Telegraph, July 20, 2005.

12 Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 209.

13 Joshua Muravchik, “Jihad or Ballot-Box?” Wall Street Journal, December 13, 2005.

14 Michael Slackman, “Egyptians Rue Election Day Gone Awry,” New York Times, December 9, 2005.

15 See the statistics compiled by using data from CENTCOM and the U.S. Department of Defense.

16 Carlotta Gall, “Taliban Threat Is Said to Grow in Afghan South,” New York Times, May 3, 2006; Carlotta Gall, “Attacks in Afghanistan Grow More Frequent and Lethal,” New York Times, September 27, 2006; Carlotta Gall and Abdul Waheed Wafa, “Taliban Truce in District of Afghanistan Sets Off Debate,” New York Times, December 2, 2006.

17 Associated Press, “U.K. Tracking 30 Terror Plots, 1,600 Suspects,”, November 10, 2006,

18 Dimitri Simes, “No More Middle East Crusades,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2007.

19 Anthony Cordesman, “Al Qaeda’s Small Victories Add Up,” New York Times, June 3, 2004.

20 Lawrence Kaplan, “Springtime for Realism,” The New Republic, June 21, 2004.

21 Michael Rubin, “Right War, Botched Occupation,” USA Today, November 27, 2006.

22 Max Boot, “Defending and Advancing Freedom: A Symposium,” Commentary, vol. 120, no. 4, November 2005, p. 24.

23 Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle (New York: The Free Press, 1999), p. 2.

24 On the motivation of totalitarian Islam, see Elan Journo, “Jihad on America,” The Objective Standard, vol. 1, no. 3, Fall 2006.

25 For a detailed consideration of what’s required to defeat the enemy, see John David Lewis, “‘No Substitute for Victory’: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism,” The Objective Standard, vol. 1, no. 4, Winter 2006–2007; see also Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein, “‘Just War Theory’ vs. U.S. Self-Defense,” The Objective Standard, vol. 1, no. 1, Spring 2006.

26 MacArthur and the writer, Theodore Cohen, are quoted in Joshua Muravchik, Exporting Democracy: Fulfilling America’s Destiny, revised paperback ed. (Washington, DC: AEI Press, 1992), pp. 101–102.

27 President Addresses American Legion, February 24, 2006.

28 President Bush, State of the Union address, January 20, 2004.

29 Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers, edited by Clinton Rossiter (New York: Mentor, 1999), p. 49.

30 Associated Press, “Bush Doesn’t See Longtime U.S. Presence in Iraq,”, October 19, 2004.

31 President Discusses the Future of Iraq, February 26, 2003,

32 Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “American Planners Stick With the Scalpel Instead of the Bludgeon,” New York Times, March 27, 2003.

33 For more on the self-destructive rules of engagement governing U.S. forces, see Brook and Epstein, “Just War Theory.”

34 President Discusses the Future of Iraq, February 26, 2003.

35 State of the Union address, January 31, 2006.

36 President Bush, Address to the Nation on U.S. Policy in Iraq, January 10, 2007.

37 President Bush Speaks to United Nations, November 10, 2001.

38 Amy Belasco, The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11, (CRS Report for Congress [RL33110], Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress), updated September 22, 2006, p. 11.

39 Churchill quoted in Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust War: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations, 3rd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. 261.

40 President Bush, Swearing-In Ceremony, January 20, 2005; Inaugural Address, January 20, 2001.

41 The Holy Bible, King James Version, (New York: American Bible Society: 1999;, 2000), The Gospel according to St. Matthew.

42 President Bush, State of the Union, January 28, 2003,

43 President Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001,

44 George Bush, Presidential Address to the Nation, October 7, 2001,

45 National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, National Security Council, November 2005;

46 See, for example, “Blair Says Hope Can Fight Terror,” BBC News online, July 8, 2005.

47 President Bush, Address to the Nation on U.S. Policy in Iraq, January 10, 2007. Quotations as recorded in the transcript of the New York Times, January 11, 2007.

48 Nicholas Kristof, “Talking With the Monsters,” New York Times, October 10, 2006. Baker’s comment is quoted in this article.

49 We here offer a non-exhaustive discussion of the subject; for a detailed treatment of it, see Peter Schwartz’s book The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America. See also Brook and Epstein, “Just War Theory.”

50 On the practicality of such a campaign, see Lewis, “No Substitute for Victory.”

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