What to do now in the Middle East

“Check your premises,” author Ayn Rand often said, “because when you are on the wrong premise, you will always achieve the opposite of what you intend.”

In the Middle East, a policy of toppling dictators and replacing them with elected governments has given us a blazing wave of anti-American violence across the region. U.S. taxpayers have poured billions of dollars into faraway places to help build schools and infrastructure. U.S. troops have given their lives to provide security and support.

Instead of a region free from tyranny, we see a region soaked in blood, some of it our own.

We have achieved the opposite of what we intended. Where did we go wrong? And what should we do now?

This is the mistake we made: we confused democracy with freedom. Democracy is majority rule. Freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, we did not insist that the new Iraqi government protect individual rights and private property. We didn’t require the privatization of Saddam’s government-owned enterprises. We took pictures of the Iraqis dipping their fingers in purple ink at the polls, and we congratulated ourselves that we had freed Iraq from tyranny.

But we didn’t.

The Iraqi government still owns all the major enterprises in the country, so it controls everyone’s job and economic future. The government in Iraq is all-powerful. This is why it has been so difficult to withdraw U.S. troops. Our men and women have kept the various Iraqi factions from fighting to the death for control of the government and all the revenue from the government-owned enterprises.

In Afghanistan, where geologists say there is substantial mineral wealth, we have not insisted that the Afghan people establish a government that protects individual rights and private property. We have not told the various warlords that the regions they control must be divided into private parcels and given to individual Afghan homesteaders. We have sent our troops into hideously dangerous situations with orders to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, who continue to live under the oppression of warlords and Taliban leaders.

In Gaza, where the Bush administration pushed for free elections, the Palestinians elected a government dominated by Hamas terrorists who campaigned on a promise to destroy Israel. We didn’t tell the new Gaza government that U.S. support was dependent on the protection of individual freedom. We never considered how many Palestinians may have voted for Hamas terrorists because they had a well-founded fear of violent retribution if they didn’t.

In Egypt, we watched as the Muslim Brotherhood was elected to run the post-Mubarak government, and we didn’t tell the new government that U.S. aid would be withdrawn unless the freedom of the Egyptian people was guaranteed by a constitution that protected individual rights.

Democracy alone is not freedom. Limits on the power of government, expressed as protections for the fundamental rights of individuals, are what make a country free, and also prosperous. It’s only with the protection of individual rights — life, liberty and property — that people are able to study and farm and invent and build and invest. These are things that take time, and no one will undertake a multi-year commitment to that level of effort without the security of knowing that their rights and property will be protected, their contracts will be enforced by independent courts of law, and they will not be subject to arbitrary action that takes everything they’ve worked for.

That’s how freedom creates prosperity, and that’s why governments that don’t protect individual rights and private property always fail to deliver on their promise of plenty for everybody.

Without limits on the power of government, elections are just one more fight in a well-armed mob war.

People who live in mob-ruled societies have no choice but to stick with their group and do what they’re told. They don’t have individual rights that a police force and a court will protect. They may not want to burn the U.S. embassy, but it would be extremely unwise for them to say that out loud.

Those people deserve our protection. The mob-ruling governments do not.

So what do we do now? How do we untangle this horrible mess which we’ve helped to make?

Our model should be President Reagan’s outreach to Soviet dissidents. He understood that the people who lived under that bloody dictatorship had not freely chosen their oppression. He knew that all human beings want to live in peace and freedom. President Reagan met with Soviet dissidents. He called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He demanded that the Berlin Wall be torn down. He spoke to the people whose voices could not be heard.

The task before us is easier than the job of bringing down Soviet communism. We have to identify the people in each of these “Arab Spring” countries who are most likely to be assassinated by the mob rulers and their ambitious thug followers, and we have to protect them until the next election. We have to withhold foreign aid from countries that refuse to have another election, as well as from countries that fail to protect our embassies and those of our allies. We have to speak clearly in favor of freedom, and never apologize for it.

Most importantly, we ourselves have to understand what makes a country free. That’s where we went wrong in the first place.

Copyright 2012

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Susan Shelley was a Republican candidate for Congress in California’s June primary.

Susan Shelley posted at 2012-9-15 Category: Uncategorized