Sunday, June 27, 2010

Iraqi Democracy vs. Freedom

When establishing a “democracy”, the first thing to remember is that democracy means majority rule. The second thing to remember is that if the majority will rule, then the minority must be protected from the majority. Since the smallest possible minority that can exist in human society is the individual, this means the recognition, and protection, of individual rights. Since the majority elects a nation's political leaders, the next thing to remember is that a constitution must be written to limit the elected government to the protection of individual rights, not “group rights”, (such as women and “minorities”) which do not exist.

When these three principles are implemented, of course, you no longer have a democracy. Or, to put it another way, you have the original American concept - a constitutionally limited republic. Today, too many Americans, including most of our political leadership on both sides of the isle, have forgotten it. For proof, I give you the former Bush Administration’s “Forward Strategy for Freedom” – the effort to build democracies in the Middle East.

In an article entitled Iraq reverting to its former freedom-less ways, Joel Brinkley describes a nation in the process of crumbling back into tribal savagery. In describing the situation there, Mr. Brinkley commits the same fundamental error that George W. Bush commits – the equation of freedom with democracy. This is evident throughout the article. While he is basically correct in stating that “Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation unless its people and its leaders all are asking for it”, he misses the crucial point.

What Mr. Brinkley is implying is that the philosophical foundation for such action must be built first – a monumental task. This is certainly true. But, for America to build that foundation, it must first understand it itself. It does not. Because democracy is equated with freedom, the failure of our democracy building in the Middle East, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was inevitable. The primary reason for failure is that democracy is fundamentally incompatible with freedom – which means individual rights and a government that protects them.

Mr. Brinkley’s opening paragraphs state:

“The United States wrote democratic freedoms into Iraq's constitution, including protections for women and minorities…

“As American troops withdraw from Iraq this summer, expect the democratic freedoms Iraqis have enjoyed in recent years to recede as well."

Notice the term “democratic freedoms”, and their application to groups such as “women and minorities”. Individual rights as properly understood are nowhere to be found in the Iraqi Constitution's Bill of Rights. The "rights" listed are a hodgepodge of economic rights to material benefits guaranteed by the state (socialism), or political rights such as freedom of religion or speech. No distinction is drawn between economic and political rights, a distinction that is paramount if freedom is the goal because the two cannot coexist. In fact, there are no such things as economic rights. Be that as it may, it is notable that all of these so-called rights are conditional. None of them are absolute, meaning unalienable. For example, Article 26 under the heading “Chapter Two – Rights, Duties, and Public and Private Freedoms” states:

“Freedom of the press, printing, publishing, media, and advertising are guaranteed and the law regulates the exercise of these freedoms.”

That’s just one example. The entire so-called Bill of Rights is full of this kind of language. There are no rights, only permissions subject to “the law” - i.e., government approval. And, as Article 23 makes clear, all of these rights (including internationally recognized “rights”, which are another problem) are valid “so long as these do not contradict Islam”. So much for freedom of religion. This is true democracy, under which the elected leadership of any given moment can override anyone’s “rights” in “accordance with the law” – i.e., by legislative fiat. It is utterly shameful that the post-Saddam Iraqi nation could establish such a constitution under the auspices, guidance, and military occupation of the country built on the premise of the unalienable rights of man, the United States of America. A country whose citizens’ “rights” are at the mercy of the government, elected or not, is a dictatorship. Democracy is tyranny, and nothing else.

This leads me to a fourth principle that must be grasped: A free society is compatible with only one social system, laissez-faire Capitalism, or the separation of economics and state.

Notice one major source of the massive corruption described in the article, “American reconstruction funds”. Instead of establishing a free market with all of the legal and constitutional protections that that implies, which would have opened the Iraqi economy up to the international capital markets, we simply handed over American taxpayer money to an Iraqi government seen as legitimate simply because it was elected. Government officials promptly embezzled at least $13 billion of those funds. Mr. Brinkley sees serious dangers ahead as American troops recede.

He sees an effort by “the nation's oligarchy … to restore the old order of things, to protect their positions and perquisites. It happens every time. All of that is made even worse when sectarian divisions smolder under the heavy foot of an oppressive government – only to flare up once the government falls. That's what's happening in Kyrgyzstan right now. Of course, that's been a fundamental part of Iraq's problem from the start.

“Already, the Iraqi government is restricting freedom of the press, expression and assembly. It's toying with Web censorship, torturing political prisoners and killing political opponents.”

Ayn Rand identified the nature of this deteriorating process more than half a century ago:

“But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law--men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims--then money becomes its creators' avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they've passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.” (Page 413)

The Iraqi government, having collected untold $billions confiscated from American taxpayers, only to see it vanish into the hands of other crooks, is a real life, vivid demonstration of a society on the road to vanishing in a spread of ruins and slaughter.

And this leads to yet another related fundamental truth, which Mr. Brinkley describes:

“A large part of the problem is corruption. Under American stewardship, Iraq has grown to be one of the half-dozen most corrupt nations on earth. ‘Significant widespread corruption’ afflicts ‘all levels of government,’ the State Department says. Nothing can so quickly cripple a democracy as the need by the nation's leaders to protect their cash flow and hide all evidence of their thefts. That leads, at least, to electoral fraud and press censorship. How can corrupt officials survive if the press is free to report on their misdeeds?

“ ‘We are controlled and censored,’ Faris Fadhil Sultan told me. He's a reporter for Al-Arabiya television in Iraq. "The government can exert its will on reporters through criminal charges or suspension from work – even kidnapping and killing."

“Iraqi reporters are intimidated into compliance – even when Western journalists found that government officials had embezzled $13 billion in American reconstruction funds.”
(Emphasis added.)

Government power begets more government power. A government that operates outside of its only legitimate purpose, the protection of individual rights, will grow in power like a malignant cancer. Rights violations beget more rights violations. Government controls are incompatible with freedom. As one grows, the other must necessarily recede. In the case of Iraq, the government’s control of the reconstruction efforts is ending up with rigged elections, an end to freedom of speech and press, such as it existed there, and other abuses.

After recounting other failed attempts to bring the “great gift [of] democracy and freedom” to countries like Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, and Cambodia, Mr. Brinkley concludes on Iraq:

“It seems all but certain. Another nation given a chance to be free is slipping almost effortlessly back into old patterns of behavior, as if drawn by inertia. Soon, after the Americans leave, the last vestiges of freedom will begin to disappear.”

I would most certainly add Venezuela to that list. All attempts to establish freedom through democracy are doomed to failure. (Whether America should engage in nation building is another issue.) Democracy is just another form of tyranny. Under a democracy, rights are not recognized as unalienable individual possessions validated by the metaphysical facts of human reality. Instead, they are considered gifts of majority whim or bureaucratic and political edict.

Democratic processes are necessarily a part of any free nation, but only a subordinate part. The primary principle governing society must be individual rights, properly understood. Individual rights are guarantees to freedom of action, and are grounded or related to three philosophical primaries:

Epistomology – reason, an exclusive faculty of the individual.
Ethics – egoism, the individual’s right to the pursuit of his own happiness.
Politics – laissez-faire capitalism, the socio-political system that subordinates society and government to the natural moral law underpinning the rights of the individual.

We need desperately to get it right. Our entire Mideast strategy is fundamentally flawed. Freedom does not mean merely waving ink-stained fingers in the air. The right to vote is not fundamental but presupposes the right to live free from physical coercion, including government coercion. Our leaders should read our own Founding documents for proper guidance. So should all Americans.

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