The Motive for War: How to End the
Violence in Iraq
by Susan Shelley
The Iraqis are murdering each other by the hundreds
every day, and the American government is flailing in the dark, looking for
a way to stop the violence.
Republican Senator John McCain suggests more U.S. troops.
Democratic Congressman John Murtha suggests fewer U.S. troops. President
Bush reportedly has a four-point "victory strategy" for "a last big push"
to win the war; the plan calls for more troops, more money, a regional conference
and a Iraqi reconciliation effort.
The Iraq Study Group, appointed by the outgoing Republican
Congress and likely to be ignored by the White House, is about to release
its recommendations. One "former senior administration official" described
the group's upcoming report to the Guardian newspaper in London. "What they're
going to say is: lower the goals, forget about the democracy crap, put more
resources in, do it," the official said.
None of these suggestions will work, because none of
them address the one critical question: Why are the Iraqis killing each
This is the answer: They are killing each other because
the group or sect or tribe that controls the government will control all
the wealth of the country, and everyone outside the victorious group or sect
or tribe will be frozen out.
In Iraq, the oil and the oil industry are owned by
the government. The major industries of the country are owned by the government.
The vast majority of decent jobs are handed out by the government.
In Iraq, if you get on the wrong side of the government,
you are going to starve to death, or worse.
Of course they're fighting. Wouldn't you?
Americans have a hard time understanding freedom the
way fish have a hard time understanding water.
Freedom is a condition that exists under a government
of limited power. In America, the government does not have power over your
employment unless you work in the government itself. If you work in mining,
or oil, or manufacturing, or agriculture, or construction, or communications,
or textiles, or any of the other major industries in the United States, you
work in the private sector for a company owned privately by individuals or
publicly by shareholders.
But in Iraq, if you work in any of those industries,
you work for the government.
What good is political freedom under economic conditions
like that? If your political views rub someone the wrong way, you could be
permanently out of work everywhere in the country for the rest of your
The Iraqi people are not free.
Take that into account the next time you see a
man-on-the-street interview of a grieving Iraqi who insists that he supports
one or another of the murderous thugs who might gain control of Iraq's
government, and its oil revenue.
The only way to stop the war is to remove the motive
for murder. The government cannot own the wealth of the country. The state-owned
enterprises must be privatized.
In Africa, Tanzania is privatizing all its state-owned
enterprises. The process is not without its critics. Labor union leaders
in Tanzania complain that workers are not making enough money. But if you
search on your favorite Internet search engine for "violence in Tanzania,"
all you will find is a series of articles about local authorities trying
to reduce the incidence of domestic violence in Tanzanian homes.
President Bush was not wrong when he said free nations
are peaceful nations. Iraq will be peaceful when Iraqis are free.
Iraqis will be free when they have a path to economic
survival as individuals, not as members of a group.
That's why it is a catastrophic mistake to talk about
dividing up "the pie" of Iraq's oil revenue between the rival ethnic and
religious groups. This would further entrench the economic circumstances
that are forcing Iraqis to show their loyalty to a tribal leader, even at
the cost of their lives.
"When a country begins to use such expressions as 'seeking
a bigger share of the pie,'" Ayn Rand wrote in 1977, "it is accepting a tenet
of pure collectivism: the notion that the goods produced in a country do
not belong to the producers, but belong to everybody, and that the government
is the distributor. If so, what chance does an individual have of getting
a slice of that pie? No chance at all, not even a few crumbs. An individual
becomes 'fair game' for every sort of organized predator. Thus people are
pushed to surrender their independence in exchange for tribal
The novelist and philosopher could have been watching
the nightly news out of Baghdad. "Warfare--permanent warfare--is the hallmark
of tribal existence," she wrote. "The inculcation of hatred for other tribes
is a necessary tool of tribal rulers, who need scapegoats to blame for the
misery of their own subjects."
Ayn Rand warned, "In the light of tribalism's historical
record, it is ludicrous to compromise with it, to hope for the best or to
expect some sort of fair 'group shares.' Nothing can be expected from tribalism
except brutality and war. But this time, it is not with bows and arrows that
the tribes will be armed, but with nuclear bombs."
Her solution was capitalism, "the antagonist that has
demonstrated its power to relegate ethnicity to a peaceful dump."
"Capitalism has been called nationalistic," she wrote,
"yet it is the only system that banished ethnicity, and made it possible,
in the United States, for men of various, formerly antagonistic nationalities
to live together in peace."
If anybody has a better idea, let's hear it.
November 16, 2006
© Copyright 2006 by Susan
The Guardian, November 16, 2006;
"U.S. plans last big push in Iraq," by Simon Tisdall:
The Coalition Provisional Authority;
"Ministry of Industry & Minerals Presents: State-Owned Enterprise Company
Associated Press, October 20, 2006;
"Tanzania's Privatization Draws Skeptics," by Tom Maliti:
Ayn Rand, "Global Balkanization," a lecture
delivered on April 10, 1977, reprinted in The Voice of Reason,
available from: A