The Driving Forces in Iraq

To mark the historic elections today in Iraq, I republish, here, a column from December 10, 2001, that has been available in full only in my book, Just Thinking: Volume I. A view that was then extreme has proven predictive, and I, for one, do not question that the world is better for it.
Congratulations to the people of Iraq for having come to a point that was all but unimaginable only three years ago. How fortunate the world is that so many Americans are brave enough to do the hard work necessary, that our leaders are willing to move doggedly ahead with necessary action, and that the people of Iraq have stood with us by standing up for themselves.

“No leader of any country, no matter how cruel, inhumane or stupid he might be, would purposely deny his own people the necessities of life,” wrote Al Taylor in an October 23 letter to the editor of The Providence Journal.
Upon digging up the edition of that paper with “Saddam Wouldn’t Be That Bad to His People” for this column, I was surprised to discover that it had the same author as an email that I recently received attacking my essay, “Who Are These People?” I say “surprised,” not “shocked.” But maligning Mr. Taylor is not my intention. He has just provided such a concise — albeit extreme — example of a way of thinking that I quote him directly to avoid accusations that I am creatively rebuffing arguments that nobody is making.
The letter then states that “the people of his country [are] the only reason any leader exists.” This is a noble, demand-side view of leadership. Antithetically, through my wife’s experience as a bar tender for an exclusive beach club, I’ve observed that certain members of the modern aristocracy still feel that the average citizen is alive expressly for the purpose of serving them. Although other views exist, the prevailing political philosophy in most of the Western world today places leaders, as does Mr. Taylor, in the role of the chauffeurs of their people.
However, maintaining the good graces of their passengers is a particularly modern prerequisite for governments. That Al could so dogmatically state his assumptions is a testament to how much good our culture and our country have done in this area over the past few centuries. Assuming that today’s truth has been held as true always and by all is a natural inclination. Nevertheless, it is a distinct privilege of the long-removed descendants of revolutionaries to be able to forget the reality that spurred the movement toward representative government and to believe that the entire world has been won over by what is so obviously the proper relationship of government to people.
Our fortunate problem in America is that we have difficulty comprehending that a leader would decimate his people to pursue unattainable ends. To the extent that U.S. (or U.N.) sanctions are to blame for suffering in Iraq, our nation can be forgiven by the fact that we couldn’t have anticipated that they would be allowed to go this far by that nation’s leadership. It took a long time for the situation to degrade to its current state, and the shifty, watchful eyes of every despot and potential despot in the world oblige the United States to avoid the appearance of rewarding Saddam’s willingness to play chicken with his own people in the back seat.
If the Iraqis were empowered to research a balanced explanation of the causes of their predicament, it is likely that their distress would eventually become sufficiently intense to spark a revolution. To avoid an overthrow, Saddam uses the pervasive strategy of dictators everywhere: deflecting blame toward the United States. Outside the stadium where the dictator’s is the only voice, foreign spectators, right down to lowly letter writers, act as spokespeople for his propaganda if they do not place him at the hub of their analyses.
As our fight against terrorism intersects with our desire to stop the needless languishing of the people of Iraq, we cannot allow our resolve to be curbed by beliefs about how leaders should act in an ideal world, or even how they do act in the Western world. With so many people’s lives at stake in both initiatives, our actions cannot be indecisive or delayed.
So-called “smart” sanctions that would more efficiently target Saddam and not his people should, perhaps, have been instituted several years ago, but now they merely represent an attempt to salvage a wreck of a strategy. They may serve to duct tape the steering column in place, but on the unpredictable path of post–September 11 international affairs, they will not hold. Further sanctions would only prolong the unnatural circumstances of the Iraqi people and extend Saddam Hussein’s reign. His rhetoric and his oppressive might would come to outweigh, even more, the drive of his people to be free of him. Yet, for the same reasons, we cannot simply cease the sanctions.
To give the children of Iraq a deservedly promising future, we must ensure that the nation’s tyrannical leader is replaced by a government that agrees with Al Taylor… at least about a driver’s responsibility to his passengers.

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Dust in the Light
19 years ago

A Reason for Celebration

Shortly after 9/11 — back when the discussion was still the amount of harm “U.S. sanctions” were doing to the people of Iraq — the urge to call local late-morning radio talk host Steve Kass in order to respond to…

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