Monday, November 09, 2009

Challenging the principle that democracy increases security

In light of Thursday shooting at Fort Hood that killed 13 people at the base and wounded 38, I thought it worthwhile to reevaluate the assumption that democracies add to peace and stability. Of course, this recent attack occurred on U.S. soil in Texas on a military base where there was a high presumption of safety. The motives of shooter Nidal Malik Hasan are being meticulously evaluated. It is suggested he acted due to some combination of personal mental illness/isolation, dissatisfaction of pending military deployment to Afghanistan, and sympathy to radical Islam.

Hasan was an American citizen, the son of Palestinian immigrants, a devout Muslim and a career Army serviceman. To the extent that present-day military service involves combating Islamic extremism in Muslim countries, there is a degree of tension present in the service of potentially sympathetic American Muslims that should be recognized. But this tension, however great, is not enough to stop our democratic principles from working to allow Americans of all religions from enlistment. On the other hand, the case could be made that our military units would be safer if conflicted Muslims were denied the ability to enlist or at least terminated upon showing clear warning signs of dissatisfaction and instability.

The greater issue regarding democracy and security is whether democracy promotion as a foreign policy goal, especially amongst Middle Eastern nations, truly cuts down on Islamic extremism. Of course, Iraq was the key test case of this principle as the Bush Administration ousted Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime. The question, then, is whether Iraq and America are safer for our foray and attempts to ensure democratic representation, or was violence actually minimized under Saddam’s autocratic rule.

Violence had been dropping since the 2007 U.S. military surge, allowing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to gradually take down blast walls and utilize Iraqis more prominently to ensure their own security. However, a major blast in late October claimed over 160 lives, destabilizing the government to some degree and potentially undermining the impending January 2010 elections. Security has become, in essence, a political platform, with incumbents staking their claim for reelection based on the lack of sectarian violence and suicide bombings. Thus, what has happened is the strange scenario where democratic elections seem poised to occur, but the mere push towards democracy has caused more violence intent on breeding chaos and instability than likely would have otherwise occurred.

Maybe these two cases demonstrate it is simply the case that we can never rid the world of crazed individuals. No matter how much we espouse a political ideology where everyone theoretically has a voice, violence may persist as a means to show extreme dissatisfaction. National security is never absolute, but it can be improved. The way to increase security is through policies undertaken, and sometimes dramatic attacks have to give us pause to think whether our pursued policies are the best course. Should we curtail military enlistment along religious lines, or is this too much of an infringement on civil liberties for an unclear benefit? Should we continue democracy promotion, or can propping up autocratic rulers actually give us greater security? There are no easy answers.


J said...

Seems to me that curtailing enlistment according to religion would cause more practical problems than it solves. The difficulties a U.S. military that denied enlistment to Muslims would encounter in majority Muslim countries would be severe. Even relatively peaceful activities (disaster relief in Indonesia, for example) would be made extremely difficult.

Auguste Dupin said...

To take this one step further, the debate now has turned to what the FBI or military might have missed.

According to an AP story, the FBI and two military investigators learned about Hasan’s contacts with radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki during a separate investigation. CBS News reported that Hasan’s duties in dealing with post-traumatic stress and returning soldiers conflicted feelings about war fit with the inquiries he made to the imam. Both the FBI and military investigators didn’t deem this as out of the ordinary. Additionally, CBS reported that Hasan’s poor performance evaluation at Walter Reed should have tipped off investigators beforehand.

The icing on the cake is a PowerPoint presentation that Hasan gave at Walter Reed, entitled, “The Koranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” Hasan described the difficulty for Muslims to fight in an army that they increasingly view as “constantly engaged against fellow Muslims.” Hasan argued that the Defense Department should allow Muslims to be excused from duty as conscientious objectors in order to avoid adverse events, such as suicide bombings. Doctors attending this conference in 2007 were reportedly “really upset” by this presentation.

Can we step back for a moment and turn on our bullshit detectors? Certainly this must have been an unconventional presentation at a psychiatric medical conference, but were Hasan’s conclusions really that controversial? Is it such a stretch to believe that Muslims in the U.S. armed forces might have a crisis of conscience over killing other Muslims? Couldn’t this be a case of the people who knew Hasan at Walter Reed trying to make the television news over a somewhat unconventional conference presentation?

The FBI and military investigators were right to stop investigating when they did. They saw the link between Hasan and Imam al-Awlaki, but didn’t find any evidence of a crime or terrorist plot. They had no reason to believe that he would go on a shooting spree. This is still a free country. Had the FBI pushed to investigate an officer in the U.S. Military because he was outspoken about problems with Muslims fighting wars in Muslim countries, they would have been abridging his first and possibly fourth amendment rights.

This was an unfortunate incident. The freedoms that we enjoy as Americans will be abused from time to time. Instead of cracking down on the FBI and military investigators for respecting the civil liberties of a suspect, we should focus our attention on improving the mental health of our military men and women. We should avoid pressures to “do something” in the wake of this tragic event, and rationally consider how to address the root cause, rather than trying to find a scapegoat at an emotional moment.