George W. Bush bailed last September’s parliamentary election in Afghanistan as “a major step forward” for the country’s democratic process. When the results were published at the end of October, however, it became obvious that the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) will be dominated by warlords, veteran jihadists, and former Taliban officials.

The new legislature will include Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the head of the Ittihad-e-Tslami (Islamic Union Party), who was mentioned in the September 11 Commission Report as a mentor to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind behind the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. It will also include Hazara warlord Mohammed Mohaqiq, notorious for hammering nails into the heads of captives; the Jamiat-i-Islami’s Younis Qanooni, guilty of countless atrocities during the civil war in the 1990’s; and many others tainted by violence and criminality.

The most tangible effect of the Afghan election in the United States and Europe will be the continued easy availability of heroin. The Taliban regime was brutally effective in curtailing the production of opium, but output has skyrocketed under its U.S.-sponsored successors. Afghanistan now provides more than three quarters of the world’s supply, and drug exports account for over one half of the country’s gross domestic product. Twenty-eight out of the country’s 32 provinces now produce the drug crop, up from 18 provinces in 1999. Opium cultivation and trade are controlled by local warlords who are now poised to dominate the legislature. Having bought enough votes and applied enough local intimidation to get themselves elected, they will be able to obstruct crop-eradication efforts advocated by the international community.

A cynic might conclude that Afghanistan is back to normal: There is a weak central government in Kabul, there are autonomous warlords in the north and the west, and predominantly Pashtun guerrillas are active in the east and south. Their attacks have killed over 1,200 people in the six months preceding the election, the worst death toll since the fall of Kabul in 2001. Peter Tomsen, former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, warns that the Taliban have become increasingly sophisticated in their training and are mounting ever-larger and more complex attacks.

Afghanistan’s new legislature illustrates the perils of “spreading democracy” in the Muslim world. If applied consistently, the process would prove detrimental to U.S. security. Instead of the degenerate royal kleptocrats, Osama’s followers would run Saudi Arabia, Iraq would be ruled by Shiite clerics, and Mubarak would be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Bush’s desire for the Muslim world to become increasingly “democratic” would benefit those who would never thank him for making their rise to power possible. The Muslim world’s genuinely democratic transformation would require a reform of Muhammad’s faith so colossal as to turn it into something altogether new and different. Short of that elusive goal, the question we should ask is not how shall we bring them democracy, but how shall we reduce interaction with them and make America safer.

In the aftermath of September 11, the U.S. action in Afghanistan was supportable in the name of hardheaded, Jacksonian realism. That mission has lost its geopolitical rationale and needs to be terminated. Karzai may not last long on his own, which may be regrettable, but it is of no consequence as long as the Taliban do not return to power. That can be prevented more effectively by putting pressure on Pakistan—there is ample potential leverage on General Musharraf— than by maintaining international peacekeepers in Kabul and American soldiers in the provinces.