This essay will touch upon some of the topics discussed in more detail in our earlier essay for February, 2004, Iraq--Tactical Folly, Strategic Madness. It will also develop more fully other concepts, concerning the nature of nations and the interaction between nations, only barely touched upon in that essay. It may be beneficial to read the two together; but that will not be necessary. This was originally planned for a June, 2004 essay, but a slight shift in rhetoric coming from the Administration caused us to hope that it would not be necessary to offer it at all. Unfortunately, the hope was forlorn; the policy has remained basically unchanged. So those of us who see the errors, must become more vocal.
As observed in the February essay, we remain willing to give the Administration the benefit of the doubt as to the decision to invade Iraq. If they believed Iraq a clear and present danger, or shortly to become a clear and present danger to the American people, the extent of that danger might be debatable; but leadership must often assume the risk of acting on its best judgment. Unless and until it be convincingly shown that there was another motive, we accept the idea that they acted in good faith. Our primary concern was, and is, what should have followed the quick and decisive victory--a deserved morale booster--achieved by our Armed Forces in the Spring of 2003.
One of the principal points in the earlier essay was that the Administration was making the same assumption of a non-existent plasticity of the human type, which also underlies some of its more foolish domestic policies, particularly those relating to immigration and education. This idea--basically tantamount to a notion that human types are interchangeable, and that what works for one will work for another--underlay virtually the entire complex of Leftward movements of the 20th Century. It has a corollary that assumes that virtually any human problem which relates to human achievement--or lack of it--may be corrected by environmental manipulation. This is--as demonstrated in essay after essay at this web site--untrue. We shall return to this point.
What we would more fully develop, here, is the kindred notion of what constitutes a nation. It is, after all, one of the principal premises of those who support our present course in Iraq, that we are engaged in "Nation Building." That was the premise, also, in a disastrous adventure in Somalia, fortunately long since abandoned. But the question that must be asked--the obvious question that should clearly have been addressed before we ever embarked on the idea of "building" a nation--is just "what constitutes a nation?"
The single best known source for defining the Law Of Nations at the time that the American States first achieved sovereign independence was Monsieur De Vattel, The Law Of Nations, a lengthy treatise, widely quoted and relied upon by the Founding Fathers as well as other eminent American statesmen during our first century. Vattel begins his work:
Nations or states are bodies politic, societies of men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by the join efforts of their combined strength.
Such a society has her affairs and her interests; she deliberates and takes resolutions in common; thus becoming a moral person, who possesses an understanding and a will peculiar to herself, and is susceptible of obligations and rights.
A bit later, he tells us:
A nation then is mistress of her own actions so long as they do not affect the proper and perfect rights of any other nation--so long as she is only internally bound, and does not lie under any external and perfect obligation. If she makes an ill use of her liberty, she is guilty of a breach of duty; but other nations are bound to acquiesce in her conduct, since they have no right to dictate to her.
Since nations are free, independent, and equal, and since each possesses the right of judging, according to the dictates of her conscience, what conduct she is to pursue in order to fulfil her duties; the effect of the whole is, to produce, at least externally and in the eyes of mankind, a perfect equality of rights between nations, in the administration of their affairs and the pursuit of their pretensions, without regard to the intrinsic justice of their conduct, of which others have no right to form a definitive judgment;....
Obviously outsiders cannot build a nation out of other peoples. Only the people who will constitute the nation can build a nation. This should be obvious to anyone with even the equivalent to what would have been a fifth grade education in 1890.
In Book II, Chapter I, Vattel discusses the concept of moral duties of a nation towards others, "Of The Offices Of Humanity Between Nations." In Section 7, he specifically addresses the concept of using force to perfect other nations:
But, though a nation be obliged to promote, as far as lies in its power, the perfection of others, it is not entitled forcibly to obtrude these good offices on them. Such an attempt would be a violation of their natural liberty. In order to compel any one to receive a kindness, we must have an authority over him; but nations are absolutely free and independent. Those ambitious Europeans who attacked the American nations, and subjected them to their greedy dominion, in order, as they pretended, to civilize them, and cause them to be instructed in the true religion . . . grounded themselves on a pretext equally unjust and ridiculous. It is strange to hear the learned and judicious Grotius assert that a sovereign may justly take up arms to chastise nations which are guilty of enormous transgressions of the law of nature, which treat their parents with inhumanity like the Sogdians, which eat human flesh as the ancient Gauls, etc.
What led him into this error, was his attributing to every independent man, and of course to every sovereign, an odd kind of right to punish faults which involve an enormous violation of the laws of nature, though they do not affect either his rights or his safety. But we have shown that men derive the right of punishment solely from their right to provide for their own safety; and consequently they cannot claim it except against those by whom they have been injured. Could it escape Grotius, that, notwithstanding all the precautions added by him . . . . his opinion opens a door to all the ravages of enthusiasm and fanaticism, and furnishes ambition with numberless pretexts? Mohammed and his successors have desolated and subdued Asia, to avenge the indignity done to the unity of Godhead; all whom they termed associators or idolaters fell victims to their devout fury.
Has the reverse of what Vattel attributes to Mohammed--or, better put, the same principle applied in the reverse direction--become a driving force to those directing or attempting to direct some aspects of American foreign policy? The idea that any nation may arrogate to itself the role of being the conscience of Mankind, is even more absurd than that any nation would seek to sacrifice its own youth, by acting as the World's policeman.
In Book II, Chapter VII, Section 95, Vattel deals with the situation, where a single country is occupied by more than one nation:
If at the same time two or more nations discover and take possession of an island or any other desert land without an owner, they ought to agree between themselves, and make an equitable partition; but, if they cannot agree, each will have the right of empire and domain in the parts in which they first settled.
While this principle is more applicable to modern South Africa than to Iraq, it still argues against the unfortunate practice in the present post colonial era of trying to force peoples, formerly administered together in a contrived artificial unit by a now dissolved empire, into continued submission to a new "independent" State. For outsiders to seek to fuse such peoples (i.e. nations) into a "Nation" coextensive with residency in the artificial State, reflects a combination of arrogant indifference to the realities, both of those peoples and of the actual concept of the nation. Its cruelty should be evident, also, to anyone with sufficient empathy to understand the importance to any people, who seek a moral basis for the ongoing generation spanning pursuits of their people in a sense of family, and in personal responsibility within such family--of being able to identify with lines of descent and an ongoing ethos.
Vattel also (Ibid., Section 97) addresses questions which would pertain to the rights of the Bedouin tribes, still found in most modern Arab States, including Iraq; albeit vastly outnumbered today by urban dwellers, who will be able to dominate them if "Democracy," based upon the fiction of "one nation," is forced upon the entire domain of any such State:
Families wandering in a country, as the nations of shepherds, and ranging through it as their wants require, possess it in common: it belongs to them to the exclusion of all other nations; and we cannot, without injustice, deprive them of the tracts of country of which they make use. . . . . If the pastoral Arabs would carefully cultivate the soil, a less space might be sufficient for them. Nevertheless, no other nation has a right to narrow their boundaries, unless she be under an absolute want of land. For, in short, they possess their country; they make use of it after their manner; they reap from it an advantage suitable to their manner of life, respecting which they have no laws to receive from any one.
Yet, today, we have the spectacle of the United States, via their Federal Government, seeking to impose that Government's theories on those same pastoral Arabs, as determinedly as the former Iraqi dictator sought to impose his. No, we are certainly not suggesting that George W. Bush is as cruel a man as Saddam Hussein, nor so arbitrary a one; but unintended consequences can sometimes be as destructive as purposeful malice. One does not even bother to inquire, whether the metaphorical "bull in a china shop" really understands the value of fine china.
However, it is not just the effort to fuse diverse nations, which makes the Administration's policy towards post-war Iraq, unfair, unsuitable and unwise. The notion of imposing "Democracy," "Freedom" and "social progress," on other peoples by force of arms, is a more fit subject for satire than as serious policy intended to advance American interests. Indeed, whatever chance we might have had of seeing a friendly Government in Iraq in place, seeking to cooperate with the United States, is being compromised by the methodology employed by this Administration.
We demonstrated awesome power in the initial conquest--that lesson was clear. In the almost two years of involvement in suppressing dissent, since, we have managed to demonstrate a far less effective operation, while laying the foundation for generations of bitterness. Our actual friends--and there is little doubt but that many people in Iraq initially saw us as friends--may be compromised, in the very near future, by that legacy of bitterness, and by accusations that those friends betrayed their own people.
Moreover, the images of this debacle--of the once terrifying might of the United States tied up in a house by house conflict, in an alien land--are being used all over the Islamic world to recruit actual terrorists, people dedicating their very lives to making trouble for ethnic Americans. Those images are not rendered more palatable by a President, who has repeatedly vowed to change the culture of the Islamic world, apparently unaware that such a posture is the absolute antithesis of his avowed pretense of seeking to advance "Freedom." Frankly, we have begun to cringe whenever we hear spokesmen for the Administration even use that term. "Freedom" has always meant different things to different people. But almost no one in Washington appears to be even aware of that fact.
In an essay (Chapter Twenty-Five, Conservative Debate Handbook) on "Democracy In The Third World," linked below, we discuss why Democracy is not suitable for many of the World's peoples. Wishing does not qualify people to vote intelligently, and you do no nation a favor by forcing them to accept a decision making mechanism, which involves non-intelligent decision making. Yet, even were the average Iraqi's capacity for abstract reasoning, equal to that of the Japanese, Dutch or the descendants of the original American settlers, the concept of a society redirected from without would make little sense. One must wonder, however, just how many dissenters, the Administration would be willing to kill, to impose its definition of "Freedom" and Democracy on the diverse peoples of Mesopotamia.
One people may seek to emulate another. But the will to emulate must come from within. It is not something that may be imposed from without. Imagine the absurdity, had the Founding Fathers urged the French Navy to remain, after the British surrender at Yorktown, to protect our freedom or help us devise a better form of "self-government"; or to fight our battles with any dissidents. Obviously, if we were capable of governing ourselves, we had to have the motivation to fight our own domestic battles, to design our own systems of Government. Yet, we anticipate an Iraqi perspective. From the American perspective, the case is even clearer.
Young Americans join the armed forces to fight America's battles. To employ them to do for others, what those others, under any theory of traditional morality, should be doing for themselves, is unconscionable. Yes, the Administration has claimed that the project in Iraq is somehow serving American interests, by fighting our enemies there, rather than here. But that argument does not scan. In Iraq, we may be engaging some supporters of bin Laden, but we are also engaging Iraqis who simply resent the Bush vision for their future. Perhaps, almost as significant, the people we are engaging do not stand out in appearance from the people we claim we are trying to help. Whereas the same foes, endeavoring to come over here to attack us, would be immediately recognized in most American communities. (Of course, the problem with the obvious is that this Administration seeks to be "politically correct" by not recognizing racial and ethnic differences in appearance. It has repeatedly shown its unwillingness to even acknowledge the realities of human difference--a point we stressed in last year's comment.)
This is not the only major fallacy involved in a questionable use of America's armed forces. While the efficient conventional military operation, the rapid conquest with men and equipment all performing up to expectation, was certainly the morale booster, suggested; bogging down our military forces in pursuit of academic day dreams, outside the traditional purpose of the "man at arms," while making them targets for the initiative of others, operating in unconventional ways with suicidal determination, is just as certain to undermine spirits. In short, this is the very misuse of the military, which General Douglas MacArthur clearly warned against in his classic "Duty, Honor, Country" Address (linked below) when he defined the soldier's mission as to "win our wars."
In the long run, this diversion into the pursuit of academic theory can only be detrimental to the quality of those who make a career out of military service. Wholly different personalities are involved in winning a war on the battlefield, and in the promotion of a theoretic viewpoint. It is not idealism that this policy represents; rather a squandering of our most important military asset, the dedication and purpose of our career personnel.
There is another serious problem with the Administration's post conquest vision, only incidentally involved in the future of Iraq. Iraq may be a symptom, maybe even the precipitant; but those directing the Iraqi policy have also made a shambles of traditional diplomacy. Let us consider some essential points by way of introduction to this sub-topic.
George Washington specifically cautioned us in dealing with other nations:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. . . . . In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility, instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducements or justifications. It leads also to concessions, to the favorite nation, of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions, by unnecessary parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted or deluded citizens who devote themselves to the favorite nation, facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; . . . .
Read that over a second time. You will note, first, that Washington uses the term "nation," correctly, as defined by Vattel above, as a moral person, with a will peculiar to itself--not as the inhabitants of a given domain, or in terms of a particular Government. Secondly, you should note that Washington's reasoning flows from an understanding both of human nature and experiences in the affairs of nations, throughout human history. The concepts are timeless, and more truly applicable to today's world situation, than anything you heard from either party at the last election. We ignore his wise counsel at our peril.
Yet we would suggest that in the Iraqi involvement, it is not the Nation, but the Bush Administration that has played upon the passions of antipathy and favoritism towards other nations--the clear specific, against which Washington cautioned so strongly--based almost entirely on those nations' attitudes towards the policy on Iraq. It is as though they see Iraq as the defining object for American foreign policy; the sole basis for determining who is friend and who is foe. This is not only tantamount to a repudiation of the wisdom of Washington, but has made a mockery of the ordinary concepts of diplomacy.
Thus we have heard talk of "Old Europe" and "New Europe." France--which secured for us our decisive victory at Yorktown--has been made the butt of political vituperation, Germany insulted; while those nations that have contributed even small token forces to the occupation have been highly praised as the future of Europe. Yet Iraq comprises substantially less than half of one percent of the world's population. What is now Iraq, has not in the past six centuries had even remotely the importance of France or Germany. But this is the least significant example of the Administration's myopia.
Iraq is in Europe's back yard. It is in proximity to France & Germany, about where Ecuador is to the United States, a shade closer than Peru. It would only be expected, among students of history, among anyone aware of the Monroe Doctrine and/or the intrigues of Europe in the Near East, over several generations, that the European powers might not want to have the United States impose their will, in Europe's back yard, on people over whom Europeans have been trying to exert their own influence for a long time. This does not mean that the United States must not act in their own interests, whomever it may offend. That is not the point. Our only point is that the Administration has totally lost any sense of proportion in the matter, and in doing so has damaged our interests, which oftentimes depend upon working with some of the nations we have insulted, in other areas of a world very much larger than Iraq; over questions far more important than Iraq.
On the "passionate attachments" side, the Bush Administration has not only made support for its position in Iraq the major determinant; it has also gone out of its way to express its identification with Israel--even in contexts where it serves neither our interest nor the Israeli interest. In this, it has stumbled into a posture which was carefully avoided by the President's wiser father, in the first Iraqi conflict.
We have no problem with Americans expressing a fondness for other settler peoples; that is not the issue here. Nor is the religious view of many American Christian Fundamentalists and Jews, that Israel fulfills Biblical prophesy, the issue. So long as these friendly associations do not cross the theoretical line, touched upon by President Washington where there is an "illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists," etc., there need be no problem with such sentiments. But when, for example in one of the Presidential debates, the President blurts out, as though recalling from a political briefing what he was supposed to say, that our actions in Iraq make Israel safer, we have an example of some very, very confused thinking.
It is not that there is never Constitutional authority to wage war in the interest of another nation. We have frequently, as in the first Gulf War to free Kuwait, gone to battle where the benefit to another friendly nation was both clear, and even part of the motive for our action. The essential determinant of Constitutionality is always in a clearly identifiable reason, as Americans, to act in the defense of our own interest, not the incidental benefit to some other; a true common interest, not a self-induced illusion. But the President's campaign statement--and a great many like it, from other members of his Administration--is objectionable for two very salient reasons. First, it serves the interests of our terrorist enemy, not American interests. Second, it demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the actual dynamics of the foreign politics involved. What the Bush Administration is doing in Iraq poses more threat than benefit to the Israelis.
When the Administration goes out of its way to tout an Israeli factor in its decisions on the Near East--just as when it launches a program to change the culture of the Islamic world by promoting "Democracy," or seeking to change the status of women--it acts in a manner that confirms the propaganda of bin Laden and other terrorist recruiters: It adopts the very posture--which was certainly not our traditional posture--first, of intentionally trying to impose our values and undermine Islamic culture, and second, of backing Israel in every controversy, without regard to the actual issues involved in particular situations.
If President Bush is trying to "push the buttons" of Islamic fundamentalists, to provoke an endless conflict--for whatever reason--he is going about it the right way. Nothing is more certain to build a foundation for lasting resentment than the pretense that it is idealistic for a people with one Faith, and one cultural heritage, to set about redefining the morality of another people, with another Faith, and another cultural heritage, even down to trying to dictate their views on sex roles and sexuality. But there is nothing in this deliberate--or reckless--provocation, which helps America in the War on Terror. Rather, it is buying Americans a generation spanning resentment, with no offsetting advantage.
As for the President's notion that his policies in conquered Iraq help secure the Israelis? This also reflects very flawed analysis. The mere appearance that our greater involvement in the Near East may be intended to favor Israel--a perception actually encouraged by the intemperate comments of some in the Administration-- has almost certainly been a major contributor in the deterioration of Israeli relations with several Western European countries. Taking an antagonistic approach to Israel may seem a convenient way to vent resentment at what is seen as American arrogance in Europe's back yard. The sympathy that the Israelis enjoyed, while maneuvering for survival amid a sea of hostile neighbors, evaporates if they are seen as being some sort of surrogate for the greatest military power on earth.
But that is mere conjecture; although a growing dichotomy between Europe & Israel is in fact apparent. Much clearer, is the likely course of the President's proposed adventure in "Democracy" in the region. Consider, for openers, which other Near Eastern nation today gets along best with Israel? Surely it is the Jordanian Monarchy. Consider the history of "Democracy," not only in the Third World (essay linked below), but even in such a troubled country as Germany, between the Wars. What happens? What happens even in some Congressional Districts of the United States?
Some of the Near Eastern Monarchies may preach the removal of Israel, but they know the First World prowess of the Israeli military, similar to that of a small technological European power. The Monarchies give lip service to the Palestinian cause, but they do not wish to risk humiliation by actually attacking. They still remember 1948 and 1967. A "Democracy," based upon "one person/ one vote," would be quite a different story.
Dealing with an emotional population, without traditions of political responsibility or restraint, the new class of demagogues will seek scapegoats. That has been the course of "Democracy" in other Third World countries. It was the course of politics even among the far more highly educated, but distressed, middle class in the Weimar Republic, in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Now, just whom do you think the Arab demagogues will pick as their scapegoat for whatever makes the population unhappy? Just whom do those populations in the Near East already hate the most?
Those who see universal suffrage as a cure for all social problems, confuse cause and effect. Universal suffrage works in Switzerland for the same reason that capitalism works; for the same reason that most Swiss enjoy affluent middle class life styles. Universal suffrage used to work in the Netherlands and in the United States, for similar reasons. And it worked very well also, when largely limited to the Settler population in what was once Rhodesia. Observe how extending it to their Third World neighbors, in what is now Zimbabwe, has worked! Democracy in the Near East might be no more beneficial to the Israelis than it proved to the Rhodesians.
In the earlier essay, we discussed how "Democracy" was actually applied in Classical Athens. Universal suffrage has never caused prosperity. It works in countries where the typical citizen or subject has the mental traits necessary to prosper in an orderly society, because of those same mental traits. Where you do not have the mental traits necessary to achieve an equivalent general level of prosperity, you almost certainly do not have the mental traits necessary for an intelligent electorate. Giving the suffrage to those at the bottom of society, hardly improves anyone's prospects; that is, anyone but the demagogues, who will create and exploit discontent by those at that bottom. The tragedy is that so many "educated" Americans have bought the Leftist "pap," that you can remake man by remaking his environment. The Yale educated President is no isolated example.
Nothing in this brief essay should be interpreted as deprecating the heroism of our young men at arms, whether in Iraq or elsewhere. We have commented elsewhere, on what we think of the policy of the Clinton/Bush Administrations, in allowing young women in "harms way." Our comments, in this essay, go solely to the folly of the policy makers--those civilians in Administrative positions in the District Of Columbia. In trying to force other people into shoes that do not fit them, they are constantly making new enemies, while undermining the position of old friends. Where it all ends, no man can say. But from our perspective, the prospects for these once safe, prosperous and serene federated peoples, known as the United States of America, are not getting any brighter.
And yet we still have the formula that worked so well, throughout most of our history; the one clearly enunciated by Washington in his Farewell Address (below). We recommended it in our essay on "War--2001!" in the fall of 2001, developed it further in the one on "An American Foreign Policy" (both linked below). But we fear that only a cry of outrage across America--this time from Conservatives, moderates and Liberals, alike--is going to get the necessary attention in a city that has totally forgotten the sage counsel of that first true American for whom it was named.