To the Editor:
In “Neoconservative Foreign Policy: An Autopsy” (TOS, Summer 2007), Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein claim that the philosophy of the Iraqi people precludes them from embracing freedom:
The truth is that the entrenched philosophy of a people is fundamental to what type of government those people can live under, and a government based on tradition and religion is in total opposition to freedom. . . . [T]oday’s Iraqis, with the primacy they place on mystical dogma and tribal allegiances, are utterly incapable of the respect for the individual and individual rights that define a free society. Their religion and traditions do not facilitate respect for freedom; they make such respect impossible. (p. 77)
The authors add parenthetically:
As for [President Bush’s claim] about freedom being “written on the soul of every human being,” this is false. There is no inherent belief in either freedom or anti-freedom—though one could make a far stronger case for an innate hostility toward freedom. Freedom is incredibly rare historically—because its root, a rational, individualistic philosophy, has been so rare. (p. 78)
Ayn Rand showed that freedom is a requirement of a productive and happy life, and that its value is readily observable to any honest, rational individual. Are the Iraqis so dishonest and irrational that they cannot recognize the value of freedom? Given the regular appearances of Islamic terrorists on Al Jazeera and the frequent anti-American demonstrations in Arabic countries, that conclusion might seem plausible. But such occurrences do not necessarily indicate the views of the Iraqi people.
By reading the blogs of several military reporters embedded in Iraq (e.g., Michael Yon) and reports from a few “mainstream media” sources (e.g., John Burns of the New York Times), I have found evidence of an Iraqi people who are not raving religious zealots, but who are actually quite grounded in reality. When such reporting focuses on specific Iraqis, it appears that neither religion nor tradition are their primary motivators. Instead, it appears that individual Iraqis generally want safety for themselves and their children and the chance to rebuild their lives and businesses—that is, the things we take for granted in a free society governed by the rule of law.
I believe the Iraqis can live under freedom and that our current approach in Iraq—to make the country safe and then turn it over to the Iraqi police, army, and politicians—will work if the American people give our soldiers enough time to accomplish their mission. I am concerned, however, that our politicians and the American people, including Brook and Epstein, do not have an accurate view of the Iraqi people and their country, and are therefore unwilling to grant our soldiers the necessary time.
Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein reply:
As evidence against our claim that today’s Iraqis are “utterly incapable of the respect for the individual and individual rights that define a free society,” Mr. Murphy cites his observation that many Iraqis want “the things we take for granted in a free society”: “safety for themselves and their children and the chance to rebuild their lives and businesses.” But this observation in no way refutes our argument: That Iraqis want certain effects of a free society—such as security and a certain degree of autonomy—does not mean that they either want or understand the causes of a free society.
If desiring not to be blown up by a suicide bomber or wanting families and businesses constituted a genuine desire for freedom, then every people throughout history has wanted to be free. But as we observed in “Neoconservative Foreign Policy,” “Freedom is incredibly rare historically.” Why? Because, although freedom is, as Mr. Murphy writes, “a requirement of a productive and happy life,” to truly understand and embrace this fact requires understanding what freedom is, why it is good, and what political institutions make it possible—which, in turn, as we have written, requires “a rational, individualistic philosophy.” To the extent that such a philosophy is present, implicitly or explicitly, a nation will be free; to the extent that it is absent, a nation cannot be free.
Reason and individualism are utterly alien to Iraqi culture. This is why, far from fighting for or establishing genuine freedom, they are enmeshed in ethnic warfare against one another, while hoping for “security” under a government in which “Islam is a basic source of legislation”—or one in which their particular tribe has massacred the others into submission. To be capable of freedom, the Iraqi people need an Enlightenment—not simply an aversion to their raging civil war.
That said, we must stress that, as far as American life and freedom is concerned, the fitness of the Iraqis for genuine freedom is a completely derivative issue. As we wrote in “ "https://toc.custom4web.com/issues/2006-spring/just-war-theory.asp">Just War Theory vs. American Self-Defense” (TOS, Spring 2006), “the freedom of an enemy country is at most a means to an end for the innocent nation, never an end in itself.” Mr. Murphy’s argument takes for granted that our soldiers’ present mission in Iraq—“to make the country safe” by playing Good Samaritan for tribal factions enmeshed in a civil war—is legitimate. It is not. The proper, self-interested policy is to focus not on making enemy nations free, but on ensuring America’s long-term security by rendering such nations non-threatening via the least expensive, most effective means available. This entails identifying the nature of the threat posed by an enemy nation, including the cause it fights for, and then thoroughly defeating that cause, its leaders, and its supporters. By that standard, “Operation Iraqi Freedom”—which focuses on “liberating” Iraqis to vote in their choice of statist government, which hamstrings our soldiers with crippling restrictions, and which diverts our attention and military resources from worse threats, such as Iran—is utterly self-sacrificial and therefore immoral. And it will remain so even if, some years or decades down the line, the Iraqis establish a genuinely free country. That free country will have been fertilized by the blood of innocent American soldiers who were prevented from using our full resources to defeat our enemies—and by the blood of the American civilians who are murdered when those enemies strike next.
Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein
The Ayn Rand Institute