Why America Must Promote Democracy in the Middle East

America is a good and a great nation, founded on values of freedom, liberty and individual rights. It is right that we should use our position as the world's only superpower to spread freedom, democracy and economic opportunity. Promoting democracy in the Middle East is also one of the best ways to ensure our victory in the war on terror.

America is at war with enemies driven by a radical ideological hatred to destroy us and all we stand for. These terrorists weren't created by U.S. policy. They are religious zealots who will stop at nothing to further their aim of establishing a global caliphate in which individual lives have no value, women are oppressed and the only legitimate faith is a perverted version of Islam.

The leaders of al Qaeda can't prevail alone. Their cause depends upon recruits. They must convince young men and women that they have no hope for a better future here on Earth. They must convince them to strap on bombs and kill as many innocents as possible. For decades, terror leaders have been feeding on young people living in despair under authoritarian regimes with closed and decaying economic systems and schools that teach hatred and intolerance.

America must work with the forces of freedom and moderation in today's Middle East to change this deadly status quo. To win the war on terror, America must defeat today's terrorists and prevent the recruitment of tomorrow's. One of the best ways to prevent recruitment is to make clear that life holds real opportunity. Young people in the Arab world as elsewhere yearn for the freedom to be heard, to stand for something larger than self, to control their own destinies and to choose their own leaders. Only democracy can fulfill these aspirations.

Al Qaeda's worst enemy is a democratically elected government giving voice to its people's hopes and dreams. They know that people don't choose to be ruled by al Qaeda. One need only read the captured writings of former al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al Zarqawi to understand the fear democracy strikes into the hearts of terrorists.

Liz Cheney is an attorney and specialist in the areas of U.S. Middle East policy and reform in the Arab world. She served most recently as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (2005-2006). Her responsibilities included designing and managing U.S. government programs to promote democracy in the Arab world. Cheney served previously as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs (2002-2004), at U.S. AID (1989-1993), and as an attorney in private practice and at the International Finance Corporation. Ms. Cheney will debate this topic as part of the Intelligence Squared US debate series. For more information go to www.iq2us.org Promoting democracy means supporting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, equal rights for all citizens, a thriving civil society and, ultimately, elections. Elections don't equal democracy. They are necessary but not sufficient. And democracy alone won't bring the opportunity and freedom these societies need to join the 21st century. Young people also need economic opportunity and the education and training to succeed in today's global and increasingly interconnected world.

Some assert that the United States can't promote democracy in the Middle East because it is an arrogant imposition of our values. They ignore two key facts. First, the desire to live in freedom is a universal human desire, not one only felt by those of us who happen to live in the West. Second, political and economic changes are coming to the Middle East. As a businessman in Dubai said recently, "All the old sheikhs are trying to brush the dust of centuries from their robes." Five years ago newspaper editors in Egypt were looking for ways to move their operations offshore out of fear that they wouldn't be allowed to publish in Cairo. Today an opposition press is thriving. Five years ago, no woman had ever run for office or voted in an election in most of the countries in the Gulf. Today they've done both. Five years ago, the region was dominated by men like Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein. Not anymore.

At the same time, the forces of al Qaeda and terror-sponsoring states like Iran and Syria are strong and threatening. Today's Middle East is at a crossroads with one road leading to freedom, and the other leading to terror and fear. America must support those risking everything for freedom.

Democracy promotion is complex. It is not without its setbacks and disappointments. But America should never turn from hard tasks, or seek excuses to retreat. We've tried the path of supporting authoritarian regimes while ignoring their people's aspirations for freedom. This policy brought only a false sense of security and stability. Promoting democracy in the Middle East today is smart and right.

Liz Cheney is an attorney and specialist in the areas of U.S. Middle East policy and reform in the Arab world. She served most recently as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (2005-2006). Her responsibilities included designing and managing U.S. government programs to promote democracy in the Arab world. Cheney served previously as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs (2002-2004), at U.S. AID (1989-1993), and as an attorney in private practice and at the International Finance Corporation. Ms. Cheney will debate this topic as part of the Intelligence Squared US debate series. For more information go to www.iq2us.org