Bush's Root Causes

05/25/2007 11:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At the president's press conference yesterday, a reporter asked a basic and important question. Noting that Joe Biden called al Qaeda in Iraq a "Bush-fulfilling prophecy," the reporter asked the president why he doesn't just "get out of the middle of a civil war and fight al Qaeda." Bush, of course, reflexively dodged the substance of the question, but his response was interesting anyway.

"The Middle East looked nice and cozy for awhile. Everything looked fine on the surface, but beneath the surface, there was a lot of resentment, there was a lot of frustration, such that 19 kids got on airplanes and killed 3,000 Americans. It's in the long-term interest of this country to address the root causes of these extremists and radicals exploiting people that cause them to kill themselves and kill Americans and others.

"I happen to believe one way to do that is to address the forms of government under which people live. Democracy is really difficult work, but democracy has proven to help change parts of the world from cauldrons of frustration to areas of hope. And we will continue to pursue this form of policy; it's in our national interest we do so."

Remind us, Mr. President, at what point did the Middle East look "nice and cozy"?

Regardless, and with an acknowledgment that it would have been nice if the president had at least tried to answer the question, let's consider the response at face value. The solution to the root causes of terrorism, Bush believes, is democracy. This, too, reflects a certain disconnect between the president's ideology and reality.

For one thing, offering the people of the Middle East a chance to vote doesn't necessarily make the region free of extremism. As Fred Kaplan noted, "Hezbollah became a major political party in Lebanon, Islamist militia leaders gained a foothold in the government in Iraq, Hamas came to power in the Palestinian territories -- all through democratic elections that the Bush administration encouraged."

For another, Bush's democracy talk has always been more about rhetorical games than actual policy.

The policy debate over the future of Iraq would be so much more productive if the White House could bring itself to be coherent once in a while.