[Author’s note: In my essay, I’ve mistakenly characterized The New Republic as neoconservative. Of course, if you read through, you’ll realize that this isn’t something I can easily correct, as it would change the character of the entire essay. Thus, I leave the essay as it is. Furthremore, despite the glaring error of source, it does not change the fact that I am criticizing legitimate neoconservative assumptions. I still think the essay was useful for initially articulating my conservative critiques of neoconservatism. ]
I’ve opened up 3 different articles on my computer. One is from Charles Krauthammer: Why Iraq Is Crumbling. Another is from the editors of The New Republic: Obligations. The last one is from Mark Steyn: ‘Free to lose’ isn’t good philosophy for the right wing. The only one that deserves any respect is Mark Steyn. While the other two simply bought into some utopian vision of the Middle East, Mark Steyn at least provides other justifications for attempted democratization. After re-visiting bits and pieces of Machiavelli and Burke, I’m convinced that the Iraq project was almost certainly doomed from the start — something at least 2 of the neocons should’ve realized.
Charles Krauthammer blames the Iraqis when he should be blaming human nature. He sums it up, “… [T]he problem here is Iraq’s particular political culture, raped and ruined by 30 years of Hussein’s totalitarianism.” Here, Krauthammer finally realizes something Machiavelli wrote down centuries ago. In Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 16, Machiavelli says:
“Infinite examples read in the remembrances of ancient histories demonstrate how much difficulty there is for a people used to living under a prince to preserve its freedom afterward, if by some accident it acquires it, as Rome acquired it after the expulsion of the Tarquins. Such difficulty is reasonable; for that people is nothing other than a brute animal that, although of a ferocious and feral nature, has always been nourished in prison and in servitude. Then, if it is left free in a field to its fate, it becomes the prey of the first one who seeks to rechain it, not being used to feed itself and not knowing places where it may have to take refuge”
I always admire Machiavelli’s ability to be so clear and concise in his writing. We see immediately that Iraq is just another one of those infinite examples of a people who have their freedom come to them by accident, and then have difficulty maintaining it. Thus, we should’ve expected this difficulty from the get-go. Krauthammer gives no indication of that, reducing the task to a simple one: “Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.” It reminds me of the argument I’ve heard several neocons make (including O’Reilly, I think), that the US has done its part, but the Iraqis have not stepped up and done their part. This view is patently false. You can see how delusional Krauthammer is here:
“It was never certain whether the long-oppressed Shiites would have enough sense of nation and sense of compromise to govern rather than rule. The answer is now clear: United in a dominating coalition, they do not.”
They have never governed by compromise or had democracy before, and yet, somehow, we wished for them to realize the intricacies of said rule. They say hindsight is 20/20, but I think you can forgive me because I’m only 19 and didn’t read Machiavelli or Burke until this year (last semester). But in Burke, it’s quite clear that you can’t destroy ancient orders and establish republican rule upon a tabula rasa. The French Revolution failed in part because of their disregard for tradition. Had I access to this earlier, would it have been that hard to make the connection to Iraq? I don’t think that was a fair expectation of the Shiites. It wouldn’t be a fair expectation of any oppressed people. It’s human nature, not the fault of the Iraqis.
Meanwhile, the editors at the New Republic finally reveal their supremely unconservative previous dogmatism. They regret their support for the war:
“At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom. But, as we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of ‘realism.’ Realism, yes; but not ‘realism.’ American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously.”
Theyâ€™ve finally woken up to the conservative idea of giving respect to tradition. The neocon ideology consists of the belief that American power can transform the world, and we have the responsibility to change the world. Of course, theyâ€™re wrong. The history of revolution is a history of disappointment. [A line I was planning on using in my discourse, but I figure why not put it in now.] When even the people of their own nation, such as the French during their revolution, have trouble controlling their own destinies, how can we assume that American power can control the destinies of others? Finally, reality has kicked in. At least, to an extentâ€¦
Their proposed solution to the problem just will make it worse. The idea is to bring in more parties to the table:
A new campaign should lay the groundwork for agreements prior to the calling of a peace conference that would include Iraq’s parties and its neighbors, as well as the United States, the European Union, and Russia. What kind of agreement could be worked out? Separate states, a loose federation, a unified government?
They fall prey to the multilateralism they were criticizing all along. What a strange 180 degree turn. Multilateralism can be a good thing, but not in this context. Such a conference is only an invitation to more disagreement and dispute, not a recipe for solution. Iâ€™d argue that even a democratic convention was a problem from the beginning. We wondered why they took so long to come up with a constitution initially. There were delays because we were dealing with ancient disputes, and they werenâ€™t solved by that one piece of paper — big surprise (not). I direct you once more to Machiavelli: â€œâ€¦Many are not capable of ordering a thing because they do not know its good, which is because of the diverse opinions among themâ€¦â€ (Discourses on Livy, Book I, Chapter 9).
The necessary counterexample is the American constitutional convention that worked, but we had not just overthrown all our ancient orders. The Americans were not starting anew. The Iraqis were. Thus, I agree with Machiavelli, â€œThis should be taken as a general rule: that it never or rarely happens that any republic or kingdom is ordered well from the beginning or reformed altogether anew outside its old orders unless it is ordered by one individualâ€ (Discourse on Livy, Book I, Chapter 9). [Now, you see the origins of a possible more dangerous line of thought.] Iâ€™m not saying that it is altogether impossible to establish a democracy in Iraq; however, it is almost surely impossible to establish a democracy in Iraq by expecting the disparate people, used to living under the yoke of an oppressor, to come together and establish one.
Finally, I come to Mark Steyn. I respect him only because it seems as if he gives short shrift to this utopian version of events. For the other neocons, the crux of the invasion of Iraq lies with the democratization of Iraq. See Krauthammer: “Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.â€ (Wow, that â€œalways simpleâ€ makes me giggle every time.) Mark Steyn recognizes the original conservative argument: â€œIn a discussion of conservative core values, Connerly suggested it wasn’t the role of the federal government to impose democracy on the entire planet. And put like that, he has a point.â€ He agrees with the idea that it isnâ€™t an inherent role of the federal government to do such a thing. I cannot stress enough how radical a break that is with the traditional neoconservatives. [10 points for the double-oxymoron.] They see the awesome American power as giving us a responsibility to the world (at least, this is the picture I got from Fukuyama, who came to speak at our campus). Itâ€™s the Spiderman idea: â€œWith great power comes great responsibility.â€ Steyn doesnâ€™t want that; he just wants to combat a foe.
Thus, when you compare him to the other neocons, you find his argument highly surprising:
â€I support the Bush Doctrine on two grounds — first, for â€˜utopianâ€™ reasons: If the Middle East becomes a region of free states, it will have been the right thing to do and the option most consistent with American values (unlike the stability fetishists’ preference for sticking with Mubarak, the House of Saud and the other thugs and autocrats). But, second, it also makes sense from a cynical realpolitik perspective: Promoting liberty and democracy, even if they ultimately fail, is still a good way of messing with the thugs’ heads. It’s one of the few real points of pressure America and its allies can bring to bear against rogue nations, and in the case of Iran, the one with the clearest shot at being effective. In other words, even if it ultimately flops, seriously promoting liberty and democracy could cause all kinds of headaches for the mullahs, Assad, Mubarak and the rest of the gang.â€
The first part is their traditional argument, but he doesnâ€™t give it priority. He says that even when our policy fails, it makes problems for the bad guys of the world. Thus, he inherently recognizes the moral propaganda component of the war. I wonder also if thereâ€™s an argument in there that deposing dictators and leaving chaos in a region leaves us better off than promoting stability. I withhold judgment for now on whether heâ€™s right or not, but I respect Steyn because although he supports the Bush Doctrine, heâ€™s arguing from completely different grounds than the other neocons. The others are (or were) delusional radical idealists; they departed from the conservative position because of wishful thinking. Steyn trashes the presidentâ€™s wishful thinking:
â€The president doesn’t frame it like that, alas. Instead, he says stuff like: â€˜Freedom is the desire of every human heart.â€™ Really? It’s unclear whether that’s the case in Gaza and the Sunni Triangle. But it’s absolutely certain that it’s not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, Toronto and New Orleans. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government â€˜security,â€™ large numbers of people vote to dump freedom — the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, seat belts and a ton of other stuff. I would welcome the president using â€˜Freedom is the desire of every human heartâ€™ in Chicago and Dallas, and, if it catches on there, then applying it to Ramadi and Tikrit.
That kind of argument is more like Reflections on the Revolution in France than Thomas Paineâ€™s liberal answer, The Rights of Man. Bush reminds me of Lafayette, whom Paine quoted in The Rights of Man, â€œFor a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.â€ The horrendous results of the French Revolution proved otherwise. The results in Iraq are showing otherwise. Itâ€™s disgustingly simple-minded to think that way. I guess I respect Mark Steyn because that quote from him falls exactly in line with my fundamental beliefs about government. People do not so easily come across freedom, nor do they so quickly desire it. To me, his opposition to Bushâ€™s wishful thinking proves to me that heâ€™s a different, more intelligent (and intelligible), strain of neoconservative. I donâ€™t see that The New Republic or Krauthammer would be so similarly quick to disagree.