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. . . .