Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Vision of Sacrifice

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world -- a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them -- and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren.

(From the President’s speech last night)

Will a democratic Iraq make our children and our grandchildren at all safer? As Bill Quick writes,

There is absolutely no hope of anything like this coming to fruition for at least a full generation, twenty to thirty years, minimum, and that is under the best of circumstances.

Absent the removal of armed subversion from the Mullahs of Iran, the Baathists of Syria, and the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia, there is no hope at all of achieving this victory.

If we had left Saddam Hussein alone and not invaded Iraq, would we be safer, less safe or about the same? I say about the same because we must destroy the states that sponsor terrorism to end terrorism. Iraq is a distraction, a side show. At best – and this is speculative – it is a strategy that will take a generation to work. That’s a generation of Americans dying in Iraq. That’s a generation of taxpayer’s money going to Iraq – trillions and trillions of dollars. (How much would it cost to bomb Iran into the stone age?)

America might be marginally safer without Saddam Hussein, but removing him must be separated from the subsequent mission of bringing democracy to Iraq. Imagine that we had invaded Iraq, shot Saddam in his spider hole, then departed the country, taping this note to the rubble: “If you threaten us again, we will destroy you again.” Would we be safer, less safe or about the same? Well, Saddam would be dead and dictators such as Qaddafi would still get the message. It would have been a boost for American morale and a blow to the enemy's morale, but in the long run we would be about as safe because Iraq has never been the fount of militant Islam.

The war in Iraq is not about America defending itself, it is about America sacrificing for the weak. Here are the final three paragraphs of the President’s speech:

In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us. These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary -- and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time. They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. They have watched their comrades give their lives to ensure our liberty. We mourn the loss of every fallen American -- and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It can be tempting to think that America can put aside the burdens of freedom. Yet times of testing reveal the character of a nation. And throughout our history, Americans have always defied the pessimists and seen our faith in freedom redeemed. Now America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can, and we will, prevail.

We go forward with trust that the Author of Liberty will guide us through these trying hours. Thank you and good night.

The burdens of freedom? This is a vision of America as a nation that must sacrifice to bring freedom to Iraq. The Author of Liberty (God) gave us liberty and now it is our duty, “the calling of our time,” to do God's work and bring freedom to Iraq.

It's a package deal of altruistic sacrifice and self-defense. The self-defense part serves to make the moral ideal of sacrificing for Iraq seem practical. The sacrifice part serves to give killing the enemy a moral justification. This package deal is necessary in our confused culture because Americans would not accept pure sacrifice for Iraqis without some idea that it is in our self-defense; at the same time, Americans do not understand that a non-sacrificial self-defense is moral.

Bush’s mystical-altruistic neoconservative vision has many flaws, among them the idea that democracy is freedom. A democratic Iraq will not be a nation of individual rights. If this nation of muslims elects Islamic radicals, then individuals, especially women, will lose rights.

In “The Lessons of Vietnam,” Ayn Rand wrote,

In compliance with modern politics, the war was allegedly intended to save South Vietnam from communism, but the proclaimed purpose of the war was not to protect freedom or individual rights, it was not to establish capitalism or any particular social system – it was to uphold the South Vietnamese right to “national self-determination,” i.e., the right to vote themselves into any sort of system (including communism, as American propagandists kept proclaiming).

The right to vote is a consequence, not a primary cause, of a free social system – and its value depends on the constitutional structure implementing and strictly delimiting the voters power; unlimited majority rule is an instance of the principle of tyranny. Outside the context of a free society, who would want to die for the right to vote? Yet that is what American soldiers were asked to die for – not even for their own vote, but to secure that privilege for the South Vietnamese, who had no other rights and no knowledge of rights or freedom.

The same thing is happening in Iraq. Instead of bringing freedom to Iraq, we are bringing a consequence of freedom, the right to vote. Without capitalism and without the philosophical premises that make capitalism possible, the right to vote will not bring freedom to Iraq. If muslims vote in Sharia law, then Americans are sacrificing to bring religious dictatorship to Iraq.

Bush and the neoconservatives have turned Iraq into another Vietnam, an altruist tragedy. We are unnecessarily sacrificing American lives and fortune because our leaders have neither the philosophical understanding nor the moral confidence to effect a foreign policy of rational self-interest. Sacrifice is held as a moral ideal, so Bush has set America on a mission that will see American men and women butchered for a generation in order to bring democracy to Iraq, instead of doing the one simple thing that would really ensure the safety of our children and our grandchildren: destroying the enemy.

UPDATE: Slight revision.


Anonymous said...

"the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us."

Note how he views volunteering for the military as a de facto declaration that one is selfless and is prepared to sacrifice. This is, in a phrase, a perfect identification of the reason why he feels it is acceptable to send young men to die in pointless futility.

This phrase also identifies the key reason why I did not join the military. I am a citizen, not a sacrificial animal.

EdMcGon said...

You ALMOST have me agreeing with you. The only problem with the "get in, kill Saddam, get out" plan is it does nothing to restore Iraq. If you want to know why that is important, see Germany after WWI.

I will grant you we have problems in Iraq now, but that's only because we are trying to run this war "on the cheap". This ain't Grenada. :P

Anonymous said...


Your commentary on the war and politics is about the best I've read. If you were inclined, you could easily be one of the best Objectivist soical/political commentators. Your understanding of philosophical principles and its application to politics is vastly superior to that of Robert Tracinski in my opinion. Its refreshing to read someone who understands that Iraq and Afghanistan were humanitarian missions drenched in altruism and little else.

Bill Visconti

Myrhaf said...

Bill, thanks for the compliment, but I wouldn't say my commentary is better than Robert Tracsinski's. I'm torn and uncertain as to what we should do now in Iraq. That's part of the tragedy of the package deal. Part of me says the left is correct, we should bug out. The other part of me says those commie bastards are NEVER correct.

Edmcgon, this answer is to your comment also. I didn't actually advocate that we should leave Iraq -- although that might be the logical inference from my argument. As I say, I'm still trying to work it out.

Myrhaf said...

I might add that the most important part of my post is the two paragraphs from Ayn Rand. I find it fascinating that they apply today. America has not learned the lessons of Vietnam.

Anonymous said...

What to do about Iraq?

I like David Odden's plan.

EdMcGon said...

The only problem with David's plan is we'd be back there in a week.