Democracy assistance is a critical factor in overcoming jihadist ideology but should be explicitly de-linked from counter-terrorism and national security policy, according to a new report out today. Substantial investment in counter-radicalization, “helping mainstream Muslims provide hopeful and practical alternatives” to jihadism should be a critical part of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy, a task force urged.
Democratic and economic reform in the Middle East “remains the best strategic response for overcoming the region’s deep structural challenges and reducing the pool of potential recruits to radical extremism,” it states.
It was recently argued that “the record is at best mixed whether promoting democracy has reduced terrorism [and] whether the magnitude of the threat merits the magnitude of effort the United States has expended. But the task force insists that the US and its democratic allies must provide “a viable and attractive political alternative to the dark vision offered by radical extremist groups“:
Prosperous democratic societies that respect the rights of their citizens are more resilient and less susceptible to political instability and radicalization. If grievances can be expressed peacefully and mediated through democratic institutions, citizens are less apt to turn to more extreme options. Efforts to promote prosperity, democracy, and respect for human rights should, therefore, remain key aspects of this administration’s foreign policy agenda, even if the rhetoric describing it changes. The key is to do it better.
Annual U.S. government spending on democracy support and public diplomacy in the broader Middle East amounts to less than 1 percent of the Pentagon’s annual spending in Iraq. The Obama administration should double the resources available to the National Endowment for Democracy and the Middle East Partnership Initiative to continue their support for those “institutions and organizations that have a demonstrated track record in standing up to and competing with both violent and nonviolent extremists.”
Given that the sine qua non for more open societies is a free and independent press that can educate and inform citizens and highlight government malfeasance, the administration should also encourage organizations like the NED to “make media expansion a pillar of their programming and develop private-public partnerships to stimulate privately developed, independent media.”
Rewriting the Narrative: An Integrated Strategy for Counterradicalization is the final report of the Task Force on Confronting the Ideology of Radical Extremism, a bipartisan, commission convened by the Washington Institute’s Project FIKRA and Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. The report is endorsed by a distinguished and bi-partisan group of policy specialists, including members of Congress Jane Harman (D-CA); Sue Myrick (R-NC), and Adam Smith (D-WA); the presidents of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute Kenneth Wollack and Lorne W. Craner, respectively; Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor; president of the Progressive Policy Institute Will Marshall; Johns Hopkins SAIS adjunct professor Joshua Muravchik; and Washington Institute executive director Robert Satloff. The task force was convened by J. Scott Carpenter, Michael Jacobson, and Matthew Levitt of The Washington Institute.
Democracy should be de-linked from national security policy. Associating democracy assistance with counterterrorism, even citing it as a mission of the intelligence community in the U.S. National Intelligence Strategy, “has the unintended implication of hurting the ability of both U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations to play an effective role on the ground in supporting democracy and reform efforts, as it raises suspicion that the real purpose of the efforts is regime change.”