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May 3, 2004

National Review's Plan for Victory in Iraq


by Paul Craig Roberts

Why do Americans who talk about freedom and democracy rely on coercion?

The political left is all for coercion against the rich. Freedom and democracy mean taking the rich's money and giving it to those who have a "right" to it.

For conservatives, freedom and democracy issue forth from the barrels of our guns. National Review's cover (May 3) proclaims: "To the Death, Crushing the insurgency, saving Iraq." The magazine's conservative editors are too serious to see the irony, but polls show that Americans are appalled at the growing carnage.

An April 28 CBS/New York Times poll found "just 32%, the lowest number ever, say Iraq was a threat that required immediate military action a year ago." A majority of Americans now say the invasion was a mistake.

I remember when conservatives complained about people like Hitler and Stalin, who were good at crushing people. Now conservatives have the spirit themselves.

In a series of articles in the May 3 issue, National Review's writers show off their new face. Leading off with his plan for gaining legitimacy in Iraq, John O'Sullivan writes:

"Our first tasks now must be to crush the rebellions, punish the al-Sadr types, and disband the militias. Ceasefires must be conducted in ways that dispel any impression of weakness. If threats are made like the threat to kill or capture al-Sadr they must be carried out. In general the U.S. must not only win but also be seen to win."

All this bloodshed, however, is insufficient to solve "the underlying problem," which is, O'Sullivan writes, "that Iraq is too divided to be a fully sovereign democracy." Solving that problem will require "several decades" as a US colony, and "during this long period the most important politician in Iraq will be the US ambassador."

How many Iraqis would be left after decades of being killed and crushed? Not to worry. In the next article, David Pryce-Jones writes: "For as long as anyone can remember, Iraq has been in the hands of some thug whose will is the only law." Having rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, the secret of success is to retain his methods. In the hands of our thugs, Iraqis are better off, Pryce-Jones writes, because we have good intentions for crushing them.

To achieve our good intentions, however, we have "no choice except to work through the custom inherent in absolute rule. " What is this custom? Pryce-Jones' answer: "Superior and exemplary force alone can prove that the political and military leadership of the coalition has confidence in its goals, and the strength to carry them through."

"Liberals in the West," complains Pryce-Jones, object to the proper way of handling our new colonial subjects, because liberals are "ignorant about the harsh imperatives of absolutism." To help liberals understand that the harsh imperatives of absolutism lead to freedom and democracy, Pryce-Jones quotes the great admirer of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, who advised French officers in the front line in Algeria in 1841: "Only force and terror, my dear sirs, work with those [Muslim] fellows."

As for al-Sadr, writes Pryce-Jones, the US should take its cue from Stalin: "No man, no problem." We must do no less than Saddam Hussein, who "would have arrested Moqtada al-Sadr and shot him, as he shot the ayatollah's father and other members of the family." For goodness sake, Pryce-Jones exclaims, we mustn't sit around and let "those seeking power" [not us of course] "believe that victory is theirs for the taking" just because we don't exercise the harsh imperatives of absolutism. Don't Americans understand that the ends justify the means?

Next, Michael Rubin assures the faint-hearted that Iraqis want the US to be forceful like Saddam Hussein and stop acting like wimps. The Iraqi people don't want American troops to leave, he claims. Iraqis are upset with us "because American calls for more UN involvement or for outright withdrawal do little but project weakness." Iraqis, Rubin tells us, "watch with disbelief" as we project weakness instead of acting like men and exercising the harsh imperatives of absolutism.

Richard Lowry writes that the US need not worry, because we have "the Marines who will fight in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq." Unlike weak-kneed politicians, Marines aren't afflicted with doubts, because Marines accept "an absolute and unquestioning submission to authority" and can be relied on to do as they are told.

Lowry sees the Borg as the conservative future. He romanticizes the training process, which teaches an 18-year old kid to speak of himself in the third person and turns him into an automaton whose identity becomes the unit.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan disagrees with National Review's plan. He says, "Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse." Obviously, Annan doesn't understand the harsh imperatives of absolutism, which is why the UN must be kept out of the picture.

The Bush administration maintains that the only Iraqis who oppose our occupation are "thugs and criminals." According to a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, that is most of Iraq: 71% of Iraqis see the US as an occupier (81% if Kurds are excluded), not as a liberator, and the majority want us to leave.

Who do you believe, gentle reader, National Review's writers or the polls?


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    Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review. He is author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.

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