The Iraq War and open borders
March 21, 2013 9 Comments
As the ten-year anniversary has made the Iraq War topical again, I thought it might be interesting to draw a few parallels between the Iraq War and open borders. For me, one of the most striking features of the Iraq War is the generosity of the war aims, at least as publicly declared. I find many of the critical suggestions made about the Bush administration’s motives, e.g. war for oil, as implausible as they are uncharitable, but if we put to one side the question of the “real” motives, the generosity of the motives that the Bush administration claimed to have make the Iraq War, as far as I know, a unique episode, and Bush a unique figure, in modern history. On the eve of the invasion, Bush said to the Iraqi people:
Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you.
As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver the food and medicine you need.
We will tear down the apparatus of terror, and we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free.
In free Iraq there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms.
The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.
It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in power. It is not too late for the Iraq military to act with honor and protect your country, by permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Our forces will give Iraqi military units clear instructions on actions they can take to avoid being attacked and destroyed.
I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services: If war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life.
Here the stress is on liberation. The war aim is to deliver freedom to the Iraqi people, freedom from poison factories, execution of dissidents, torture chambers. Of course, just because this was a motive of the war doesn’t mean it was the motive. Maybe you could deny that Bush was even claiming that liberation was even a motive. That is, you could say that (Bush thought) the war was in the US national interest, but we happened to intend to conduct it in a way that would benefit the Iraqi people too, and by publicizing this intention beforehand we would reduce resistance and make the military’s job easier. But then consider Bush’s Second Inaugural.
We have seen our vulnerability – and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America’s influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.
Note the universalism of Bush’s speech. Bush wants to “end tyranny in our world.” While he does represent this as being in the national interest, it is difficult to read this speech and think that Bush regards “ending tyranny in our world” as merely a means to an end (US national security). What other major public figure alive today has even paid lip service to such a lofty objective?
To critics of the Bush administration and the Iraq War, I would pose the question: Were Bush’s ideals too high? Was he wrong to (at least claim to) aspire to end tyranny in our world?
If so, why? Is it because he overestimated the value of freedom? Maybe freedom isn’t suitable for everyone? Maybe some peoples are “not ready for democracy,” or have different cultural values that make them prefer what a Westerner like Bush calls tyranny? Or is it that Bush was unrealistic, over-reaching, over-estimating America’s power to effect change? Is tyranny too entrenched, too grounded in human nature, to be overcome?
If not, what’s your alternative? How should we pursue the goal of ending tyranny in the world, if not by the means that Bush championed? It seems to me that the great disillusioned masses at both the popular and the elite levels have largely shirked this question. The general response seems to be to sneer, to dismiss Bush as dumb or whatever, to spin conspiracy theories or impute– possibly with justice, but that’s not the point– ulterior motives, and to try to forget the whole episode. The disillusioned have not tried to answer Bush’s high ideals with better high ideals. Rather, high ideals in general seem to have gone out of fashion. This is unfortunate.
Certainly, it seems unlikely that tyranny in our world will be ended in the fashion that America ended it in Iraq since 2003. The war was costly– perhaps $2.4 trillion– and neither the US nor other developed countries can afford to do that routinely. The regime in North Korea is still standing, possibly a worse tyranny than Saddam’s Iraq, and while there may be no other really totalitarian regimes left, Belarus, Vietnam, China, most of Central Asia, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries are unfree to an extent that a charge of “tyranny” might be appropriate. And while the war in Iraq has created a messy quasi-democracy in place of totalitarianism, in Afghanistan, where conditions were less favorable for democracy, a full Taliban restoration seems likely enough. Exporting institutions directly, via liberation, is too expensive and unreliable to be applied globally.
If we really want to end tyranny in our world, open borders will surely have to be a big part of the strategy. By realizing the right to emigrate on a global scale, we would free people to free themselves from tyranny. Emigres might then be a potent force for liberating their homelands, as I argued in “American Hajj: Towards an Open Society.” Unfortunately, the reaction against Bush has dispelled any consensus one might have hoped for in 2004 that we should be trying to end tyranny in our world. So this argument might have limited force just now. Incidentally, compare Bryan Caplan’s recent post “The Rights of the World’s Poor.” I like Caplan partly (let me mischievously suggest) for the same reason I liked Bush. High ideals.