Booming Iraq: Cause vs. Effect

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Via Glenn Reynolds, I learned his morning of this interesting post about the war in Iraq. Its title is "What if we are winning?" and it makes a good case that conditions in most parts of Iraq are better than news reports would have us believe. On a quick read, author Tom Donelson will seem to many to have made a good case, but I disagree with him.

The following passage at once summarizes his case and what is wrong with most thinking on both sides of this argument.

One meaning of all of this is that we may not be losing after all. If most of the country is prospering and Iraqis are forming new businesses, then can we assume that overall, we are indeed winning? Another meaning is that Iraqis are showing that they can operate in a liberated economy and if they can work in a free market economy during a war time setting; imagine what they could do if the insurgency is defeated? One important aspect of a liberal democracy succeeding is a liberal economy that frees entrepreneurs from the shackles of government. And Iraqis, with lower tax rates than even seen in the United States, have the money to form new businesses and spend money on new goods. [bold added]
Yes. Iraqis can "work in a free market economy" (to speak somewhat imprecisely) -- as could Russians during the Cold War, Germans during World War II, the Chinese ever since the Maoists took over China, and Moslems today. The major difference is that of these groups only these Iraqis have not had to emigrate to free societies in order to enjoy prosperity.

But what does it really mean that anyone can thrive in a free society? What must one do, precisely, in order to succeed? Man is the rational animal. To survive, he must use his mind -- e.g., solve the problems that face him immediately, invent things, or plan ahead. The reason freedom permits prosperity is twofold.

First, the rights of all individuals to think and act upon their best judgement are protected by the government from the initiation of force. Criminals are not free to defraud, rob, or physically harm the individuals of a free society because it has an effective police force and court system. Foreign invaders are likewise repelled by an effective military. Large numbers of people cannot simply self-organize into a functioning, let alone prosperous, economy for very long without such protection.

Second, the government itself is limited to its proper function (just outlined) and does not play the role of an organized criminal gang, which is essentially what it does in any tyranny.

While the prosperity in a free or semi-free society can, in a sort of inductive positive feedback, make it easier for its inhabitants to learn more easily some profitable moral lessons (e.g., that racism is foolish) and improve the overall standard of living in intangible ways, prosperity cannot cause freedom. Individual rights must be protected as a necessary initial condition for a free market economy.

Having said that, are we winning in Iraq? As Donelson points out, much of Iraq is prospering. At the same time, its government seems weak and ineffective at many of its proper functions, and worse, Islam is named in its constitution as a source of its laws, an error ratified by its people, who elected a majority of religious political parties to its parliament. Given the totalitarian nature of Islamic rule, as evidenced in every single Islamic regime in the world, it will only be a matter of time before this prosperity is ground to a halt and replaced by tyranny or outright anarchy as we see in "Palestine" today.

Iraq's prosperity today follows on the heels of an American invasion of a country that had suppressed its Islamic elements beforehand. Whatever freedom there is in Iraq for the moment exists partly due to the American presence and partly because the invasion caused a power vacuum, which will remain unfilled for a time as theocrats are distracted by the battle to gain overall control over the country. The Americans have filled some of the proper functions of government and the Islamists have not yet had a chance to work to abuse governmental power.

As with any other Moslem nation today, theocracy is the major long-term threat to freedom in Iraq, and it is theocracy which we must prevent if we are to win. As John Lewis put it so well recently, America has already shown in history that this threat can be eradicated as it did when its post-war occupation of Japan systematically separated the Shinto religion and state. Our military is perfectly capable of succeeding in winning battles in Iraq, but if we do not reverse our mistake of failing to insist on a repudiation of theocracy, we will continue to confuse cause and effect, thereby winning many battles, but losing the war.

Economic prosperity is only an effect of political and economic freedom. It is not a sufficient cause of freedom, but a manifestation of the fact that numerous individuals are free only to act for their own benefit without harming others. Without a government designed for the sole purpose of protecting that freedom, economic freedom will not survive for long.

Those who say we are winning in Iraq based on evidence like this are wrong about the big picture. Those who see the big picture and say that we are losing are all too often wrong in claiming that there is no military solution to the current war. We are not winning, but this is not a military problem.

-- CAV

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