Wednesday, August 09, 2006

How to make the Iraq policy work

"We believe democracy yields peace," President Bush told reporters on Monday.

Well, not so far. Not in the Middle East. Free and fair elections gave Hezbollah two seats in the cabinet of the Lebanese government, gave Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, and gave high government positions to Shiites in Iraq who have supported angry demonstrations climaxing in chants of "Death to Israel" and "Death to America."

Today White House spokesman Tony Snow explained the administration's position on Iraq in response to Senator Joe Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut Democratic primary. To paraphrase, the United States can't pull out of Iraq because Osama bin Laden predicted that we would and we can't let him win.

That's not a policy. That's the kind of thinking that gave us the Vietnam War.

The good news is, the Iraq policy can still be saved.

President Bush's mistake has been to confuse democracy with freedom.

Democracy is, in Ben Franklin's famous phrase, two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

Freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power.

The mistake in Iraq was to topple the Saddam Hussein government and replace it with a democratically elected government without addressing the fact that all economic power is held by the government.

Iraq's government owns the oil. It owns all the significant industries. It controls everybody's job and everybody's economic future.

No matter what the Iraqi constitution says, no matter what we say, no matter how many U.S. or international troops patrol the streets of Baghdad, there is going to be a bloody struggle for control of the government.

The administration likes to point to the fact that voter turnout was high in Iraq. But that's not proof that democracy is a success there. It's just more evidence that control of the government is a matter of life and death.

And because control of the government is a matter of life and death, elections are just one battle in the war. Car bombs inevitably follow.

If your economic future -- your job, your family's jobs, your housing, even your safety -- lived or died by the outcome of a U.S. election, would you sit quietly after the votes were counted? Or would you band together with others in similar circumstances and fight for your survival?

Maybe you wouldn't fight. Maybe you'd just look the other way when people who fought for your side took refuge in your neighborhood.

Maybe the United States would collapse into a guerrilla-style civil war.

But in the United States, the government doesn't own the oil, or the industries, or the job-creating enterprises. Your economic survival doesn't depend on being a member of the party in charge of the government. You have an independent path to financial success in private-sector business. In fact, business is so powerful in America that it's widely believed corporate America controls the government no matter who is in power.

Take a look at Iraq and you'll see why that's a good thing.

The solution to the violence in Iraq is to privatize the oil and all the state-owned enterprises.

If we have any leverage with the Iraqi government, we should pressure them to turn their oil industry into a shareholder-owned enterprise and get the dividend checks in the mail to Iraqi citizens as fast as they possibly can. Once the economic power is in private hands, there will be no reason to die for control of the government. Iraqis aren't insane. They are acting rationally under the circumstances. If we ever want to get out of there, we have to change the circumstances.

Copyright 2006

Editor's Note: Read more about it in "A Plan to Get Out of Iraq: Blackstone's Fundamental Rights and the Power of Property" at