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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 other?

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 life.

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 protection."

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
Susan Shelley is the author of the novel, The 37th Amendment, which includes an essay on the history of the Bill of Rights titled "How the First Amendment Came to Protect Topless Dancing." Both are now available in eBook editions from

© Copyright 2006 by Susan Shelley

Source Notes:

The Guardian, November 16, 2006; "U.S. plans last big push in Iraq," by Simon Tisdall:,,1948748,00.html

The Coalition Provisional Authority; "Ministry of Industry & Minerals Presents: State-Owned Enterprise Company Profiles":

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
The Ayn Rand Bookstore
and many other booksellers.

Click the title to read the column

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The Secret Life of the Bill of Rights

The Tyranny of the Children

A Plan to Get Out of Iraq: Blackstone's Fundamental Rights and the Power of Property

Cornered: The Supreme Court's Ten Commandments Problem

How to Get Congress to Foot the Bill for Illegal Immigration, and Fast

Why There Is No Constitutional Right to Privacy, and How to Get One

Judicial Activism and the Constitutional Amendment on Marriage

Marijuana, Prohibition and the Tenth Amendment

A Retirement Plan for Sandra Day O'Connor

How the First Amendment Came to Protect Topless Dancing

The Great Death-Defying California Recall Election

The Meaning of CNN's Confession

The Bill Bennett Mystery

Susan Shelley is running for Congress in California's 30th District, the west San Fernando Valley.

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