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Foreign Policy in Voice for Reason
Foreign PolicyMiddle East

The Advent of Freedom?

by Onkar Ghate | October 12, 2005

As the world eagerly watches the Iraqi constitutional referendum, the Bush administration and its intellectual supporters herald the occasion as a historic step toward freedom in the Middle East and security for America. This view betrays an appalling ignorance of the nature of freedom and the requirements of our national self-interest.

Politically, as America’s Founding Fathers understood, to be free is to possess the ability to exercise one’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. To be free means that no other men, whatever their number or position, can coercively prevent an individual from taking the steps rationally required to support his life. It means no one can force him to accept beliefs or dogmas, control what he can or cannot say, seize the material wealth he has produced and earned, or dictate the goals he must live for.

A constitution is valuable only if it strictly delimits the power of government to that of protecting each individual’s rights. History demonstrates that government is, potentially, the worst violator of man’s rights. A proper constitution declares off-limits any governmental action that would trespass on an individual’s rights, no matter whether that action is proposed in the name of the king, the common good, God, or public morality.

The draft Iraqi constitution, however, grants virtually unlimited power to the state.

As liberals have demanded in America for over a century, private property will be eviscerated. Although the proposed constitution nominally protects property rights, it explicitly allows that private property can be seized by the government “for the public interest.” By contrast, public property “is sacrosanct, and its protection is the duty of every citizen.” (In practice, this means that if the government takes a citizen’s money, business or home, he must stand aside — and then defend with his life what the government has stolen from him.) The state will dictate whether an Iraqi can sell land to foreigners. It will manage the oil. It will provide to its hapless citizens “free” education and health care, “a correct environmental atmosphere,” and work “that guarantees them a good life.”

The government will also, as conservatives have long dreamed for America, enforce religious morality. “Islam,” Article 2 declares, “is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation: No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.” Experts in Islamic law will sit on the Supreme Court. The state will guarantee protection of motherhood and the “ethical and religious value” of the family. Citizens will have freedom of speech, of press, of assembly — so long as no one says or does anything that violates “public morality,” i.e., the dogmas of Islam.

And as if to leave no doubt that the state can exert total control over the individual’s life, Article 45 adds that the government can restrict or limit “any of the freedoms and liberties stated in the constitution . . . as long as this restriction or limitation does not undermine the essence of the right or freedom.” Of course, part of the essence of any right or freedom is that it is inviolable.

We in America had no reason to expect freedom from the drafters of Iraq’s constitution. Like many of our own intellectuals on the left and the right (some of whom were advisers in Iraq), Iraqi intellectuals are either tribal or religious collectivists (or both). Whichever the case, they deny the individual and his rights. The tribalists deny material independence to the individual and seek to control his every economic step. The religionists, more numerous and powerful, deny spiritual independence to the individual and seek to dictate his every conviction and purpose in life. It is no accident that the draft constitution is both “keen to advance Iraqi tribes and clans” and eager to promote Islam. Freedom’s intellectual preconditions do not exist in Iraq.

In the long term, whether Iraq’s religious collectivists seize the machinery of state by a protracted, bloody civil war or by the ballot box will make no difference to America’s security.

Nor did we have any reason to think that our self-defense requires, at the price of our soldiers’ lives, “imposing freedom” on Iraq or the Middle East. It is true that free nations pose no threat to us. But neither do semi-barbarous nations when they and their citizens are demoralized — when they know that taking up arms against us guarantees their devastation. This is the lesson America’s military should have taught the Islamic totalitarians and their legions of collectivist supporters and sympathizers in the Middle East after 9/11 — indeed, after Iran’s embassy takeover in 1979. But this is not the lesson conveyed by Operation Iraqi Freedom, which espouses Bush’s “calling of our time”: selflessly to bring freedom to those hostile to the idea.

Freedom is an intellectual achievement, which requires disavowal of collectivism and embrace of individualism. Sadly, no matter what the referendum’s result, this is not what we are witnessing in Iraq.

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute