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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5959/how-long-must-iraq-hell-last/

How Long Must Iraq Hell Last?

November 30, 2006 by

Noah Feldman endeavors to show that America has a moral duty to continue its military occupation of Iraq. He does not say that the war itself was a good idea. Quite the contrary, the very fact that American forces have made a mess of things leads to their obligations to the Iraqis. If America troops departed, Iraq would probably fall into chaos and civil war. To prevent this dire outcome, America must guide the Iraqis to democracy. But let us ask a more fundamental question: Why does the state have to be rebuilt at all? Why will not an agreement between the leading protection agencies suffice for social order? In any case, Feldman offers no evidence that the Iraqis want to be subjected to American rule. FULL ARTICLE


hecky November 30, 2006 at 9:26 am

good review. feldman fails on two main points: (a) his ethnocentrism, and, (b) lack of validated primary data gathering. the second point is heavily influenced by the first point. why does game theory apply to american geopolitics and not to iraqi geopolitics?

Ryan November 30, 2006 at 9:38 am

When people are willing to sacrifice their own lives to kill their enemies, the motivations that would otherwise result in peaceful and cooperative protection agencies are not present. When considering people whose desire to kill is in many cases stronger than their love for life itself, I would not expect an AnCap system to result in peace. I wouldn’t expect a State to have a better shot at it either unless one side is completely dominant, which isn’t a desirable outcome for whoever ends up on the losing end.

My point is that we’re talking about people who are willing to die for a chance to kill some hated religious enemy. There is no peaceful solution to this, and violent solutions aren’t any good either. We shouldn’t present Anarcho-Capitalism as though it would produce a peaceful outcome in Iraq, because it wouldn’t.

RogerM November 30, 2006 at 10:32 am

Feldman is a perfect example of all that is wrong with our handling of Iraq and the Middle East in general: he does not understand Arabs at all. He assumes that Arabs reason like college-educated Americans. They don’t. Not even close. Geert Hofstede’s web site provides a good intro to how different American culture and thinking is from the rest of the world, especially Arabs.

As a result of his faulty assumptions, he has the answer to Iraq’s problems 180 degrees backwards. The US presence makes the situation worse, but not because our presence creates more terrorists, as the mainstream media assume. President Al Maliki has been begging the US to turn control of security in Iraq over to him for months because he sees us as more of a hindrance than a help.

We are protecting the Sunni terrorists, who murder Shia daily, from the Shia militias. If we would get out of the way, the Shia would kill all of the Baathist and Al Qaeda insurgents in the country, with the help of the Kurds, and Iraq would enjoy peace. But the US won’t let them, preferring in stead to negotiate with the terrorists and force a “unity government” upon the nation. By unity government, the US means forcing the Shia to give Sunnis power in the government that they failed to earn on election day. So much for democracy.

If the US pulled out, an Iranian style theocracy would probably replace the current government, but if that’s what the people want, we should let them have it.

Reactionary November 30, 2006 at 11:08 am


I agree we need to leave and leave now, but if we do, the US government will have failed in its efforts to install an Iraqi government that will remain reliably neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So I expect withdrawal to be resisted fiercely at all levels of the Bush administration and its core dispensationalist Christian base.

Ike Hall November 30, 2006 at 11:27 am


Completely agreed. There is no way to restore Sunnis to power in Iraq at this point. Protecting their militias is at best a delaying tactic, for it will not bring stability in the long run. The best the Sunnis can hope for now is to defend themselves against the Shia militias and the peshmerga, thus ending up with a de facto partition. Any revenue sharing their politicians can wrest from the central government will be a nice bonus, but revenue sharing is not reason enough for us to stick around and help them negotiate. The ethnic and religious groups in Iraq are going to have to reestablish civil society on their own, and they won’t be able to do that with US troops threatening them.

Mike Linksvayer November 30, 2006 at 12:47 pm

If America troops departed, Iraq would probably fall into chaos and civil war.

As it is with U.S. jurisdiction troops not departing.

If one is going to use a moral obligation to prevent civil war as an argument, one could at least examine whether occupation is more or less likely to prevent civil war than withdrawal.

Prediction markets can be used to do just this.

RogerM November 30, 2006 at 1:11 pm

Ike:”Any revenue sharing their politicians can wrest from the central government will be a nice bonus…”

If Iraqis were smart, they would sell the oil rights to private companies and just collect a tax on production. But like most third world countries, they’re not very smart. They’ll keep the oil in government hands and fight over it from now on. Oil owned by the government only encourages corruption as each faction tries to steal part of it. Government-owned oil, as with the government owning any resource, diverts the efforts of potential entrepreneurs into government work and corruption. Oil has cursed most third world countries with corruption and revolution. Expect Iraq to always be as unstable as Banana Republics.

LukeFitzhugh November 30, 2006 at 1:17 pm

“America must guide the Iraqis to democracy.”

Can’t be done. Arab politics and culture have resulted in a society that is ignorant of democracy, what it stands for, how it is supposed to work, etc. We either get out or we have an insolvable problem on our hands for a long time. Let the Iraqis solve their own problems. Democracy to the Iraqis is about as far-fetched as anarcho/libertarianism is to Americans.

Reactionary November 30, 2006 at 1:42 pm


Could you tell me what democracy “stands for” and how it is “supposed to work?”

As far as democracy in Iraq goes, the Sunnis vote for the Sunnis, the Shia for the Shia, and the Kurds for the Kurds. No failure of democracy there that I can see.

Curt Howland November 30, 2006 at 2:21 pm

The problem with trying to force democracy on these people is caused by the fact that it is government itself that is doing the deed. The reason has been stated before, in reference to Somalia: So long as the government being put in place has power, the various factions will act, violently, to gain that power for themselves. Even, and especially, if they see that not having that power would allow other factions to make their lives miserable.

The fact that a “democratic” system was able to be established in the US was specifically because it was limited in power. Since the US policy makers cannot conceive of such a thing, that aspect of a successful “democracy” is the one thing being left out.

Feldman’ examples of Somalia and Sierra Leone are specious. In the former, peace was only found when outside governments stopped trying to force a central government on them. In the latter, the vast deaths were perpetrated with tacit agreement of their central government.

So the US pulls out: The Kurds, Suni and Shiite go their own ways, the country “Iraq” ceases to exist having split itself into three different regions. Is this a bad thing? What is so overwhelmingly important about that physical territory being “ruled” by one central government?

Matthew November 30, 2006 at 2:35 pm

The main argument presented in this article is with “obligations” of a moral sort. Not only because of our involvement, but also because of our military power and preponderance do we somehow occupy the unique position of enforcing human rights across the globe. That is, we are obligated to intervene in another country’s affairs if something tantamount to a Jewish Holocaust is taking place. Now, I have several concerns with this thesis.

First, who decides when and under what circumstances merit military intervention? If one person believes an act taking place in another country to be intolerable, does he have the “moral” right to force me to participate in its termination? In short, if many, or a majority, believes that we have a moral obligation to pacify the situation in Iraq, I would respond by saying, “well, ok, then you go over there, but don’t force me to come along with you.”

Military coercion, aggression, conscription and a general violation of property rights against American citizens would have to take place in order to achieve what Mr. Feldman and many advocates of the “more troops needed” argument seem to favour. Is this what we want? Should we further enslave our own people in order to liberate another people of which the outcome still remains uncertain?

I say no.

Som November 30, 2006 at 2:55 pm

Iraq will probably resemble the Anarchy in Somalia the past few years if the U.S. departs. This is a viable and workable option, but not the eyes of the average bureaucrat, who saw Somalian Anarchy as an era of chaos and despotism.

I suppose ignorance has no limit. Until we convince the public (and I believe we will) that society can (and does) thrive without a state, star-struck intellectuals will not endorse that option

Jacob Steelman November 30, 2006 at 3:58 pm

Iraq is another Vietnam. No amount of US troops can solve the problem. The US could not save Vietnam from Communism and it cannot save Iraq from a civil war. Good intentions do not make for good results but false premises make for bad results. The statist/mercantilist philosophy can only bring violence and hardship for the people of Iraq not peace,prosperity and democracy. The Iraq war was never about peace, prosperity and democracy for the Iraqi people; it was about control of oil and driving up the price of oil and hydrocarbon energy.

T.G.G.P November 30, 2006 at 5:56 pm

When have protection agencies ever decided to mutually coexist rather than civil war or partition determining who has power? I see no reason to expect anything different from happening in Iraq when we withdraw.

outraged November 30, 2006 at 10:50 pm

Take a look at this

Why the obsession with Iraq and Abu-Ghraib when we have this going on in our own back yard? This is (also) a national disgrace. Why does nobody care?
How dare we have the chutzpah to invade other countries “to civilize the natives”?

Warning – this video very disturbing – I could not watch it all in one sitting.

Vanmind December 1, 2006 at 12:18 am

So, the Pentagon wants to hang around long enough to be there when the Iraqis have softened up each other with civil war bloodletting sufficient to allow US forces to sweep in, mop up, and claim victory…

…and this is the kind of Ivy League Socialism propaganda that’s being manufactured to snow everyone into “consensus.”

Saturdaynightspecial December 1, 2006 at 4:57 am

Smaller (“de-centralized”) governments and their states can’t conduct “empire” and this is why libertarians oppose a strong central government. Even though small governments are as destructive as the Centralized ones (slavery), they choose the lessor of the two evils. Empire causes the most trouble.

When we stop being “chumps and suckers” maybe we’ll learn to respect constitutionalism (maybe) and then we (including Harvard law school graduates or economists) can stop wasting our time discussing this nonsense. Because, as Iraq proves, graduating from the best schools and majoring in difficult fields won’t prevent you from being either a chump, sucker or a dumb idiot who can’t learn to appreciate constitutionalism.


george in toronto December 1, 2006 at 10:00 pm

Someone should tell Feldman— Come clean,your a shill for Israel.
I question his ranting as hardly-intelligent and civil commentary.Middle-east has been plundered for ages for it’s oil. Israel was planted by UK/USa for a foothold in the middle-east. Sad part is Russia and Germany tried with little success.
Question :: who was the first to use chemical nerve gas by dropping them from airoplanes,onto middle-east folks ?-ITALY !

Mr. Feldman should take some history lessons. Israel is used.
I just hope that Iran controls the middle-east and Israel gets a fast boot out.I’m hoping that the Israelies have a new homeland in the Artic and god no-more them in USA/Canada.

T.G.G.P December 1, 2006 at 10:41 pm

Israel was planted by the UK? Sorry, but I was under the impression that Israeli terrorists regularly attacked the British occupiers and the British fought back.

What does Italy have to do with anything? It wasn’t mentioned previously.

You want Iran to control the Middle East? Tell me, are there masses of people leaving their old lives for the streets of gold in Iran? Or was the movement the other way, with refugees escaping the revolution which proclaimed “You love Pepsi-Cola and we love death”? Does Israel have to build walls to keep people in, like East Berlin, or out? How have the lands under Israeli occupation fared compared to the countries they were seized from? How do the countries compare on freedom indexes, or really any measure relevant to quality of life?

tz December 2, 2006 at 1:22 pm

Here libertarian readers will at once interpose an objection. Should we not welcome the demise of a strong state, rather than mourn its passing? The objection misfires.

By “Strong State”, do you mean Iraq or the United States of America? Is not Mises.org and the rest of the company specifically dedicated to the demise of the Strong State on this soil (I’ve noted before no one actually moved to Somalia and although they often praised its stateless existence they provided no aid to maintain it).

Also note that by saying (to paraphrase) “by invading, the US owes Iraq…”, you don’t address the Spooner objection that he never personally agreed to the constitution. The same thugs and tyrants who oppress the US Citizens (try smoking or traveling via air, to say nothing about taxes) are the same ones who destroyed Iraq.

Personally, if you are going to talk reparations, you can start with present company. Except the government is already bankrupt. Whom are you going to steal from in order to provide the funding?

Yes, if you in your automobile injure another you could justly be responsible for his medical bills, but that doesn’t mean you have any ability to pay them. Yet the government which does the oppression also passes compulsory insurance laws – whatever the ideal of justice might say. In the eternal scheme of things, I may owe you, but in the temporal, do I owe you or not when the government says I don’t? And if it has the authority (even mere argumentum ad balaculum) to say that, why doesn’t it have the authority to say the war was fine and we can just leave the wreckage and rubble to the now liberated populace in Iraq.

Anthony C. LoBaido December 2, 2006 at 7:56 pm

This was a pretty good review. And it was a very difficult subject. The author/reviewer was kind to his subject and that means a great deal. He was also firm in his criticisms.

Yet there is much more to be said and I would like to paint some broad strokes.

First, American soldiers (who probably are mostly Christians, Catholics and Evangelicals) have now effectively run most Iraqi Christians out of their own country by installing this new regime to power. Is that irony or what?

What about all the missing U.S. development aid which Paul Bremmer couldn’t account for? He couldn’t fly in some accountants?

How could our military train so few Iraqi soldiers in all that time, with all that money? I could have trained a batallion myself in all of these years. And why destroy the entire Iraqi Army and purse every single Baathist from power? Was that smart?

How does a radical Shiite government cheering
“Death to America” help our nation? It’s just insane and it is getting harder and harder to try and focus on reality in Iraq, or in the minds of Cheney, Bush Jr. and Halliburton.

As a plus, the Kurds, the largest ethnic group in the world without a country, may finally get their own country.

As for the future of Iraq, we have created such a mess things may not sort themselves out the way the reviewer suggests. Who has a crystal ball?

From the beginning of Shock and Awe we did not secure the great Iraqi museum, and it was looted. This set a tone for anarchy and was so stupid from a tactical point of view it stupifies the imagination. As we heard from Rummy was “Democracy is messy.” Well, so is a diaper!

Then, to control people with vice alcohol and prostitution were legalized almost right away in Iraq. If you look at MTV you will see why Muslims fear America. Our culture is disgusting. Things we would have shunned even in 1990 are now not only tolerated but celebrated.

Also, scores of Iraqi doctors and professors are being murdered. How does this bode for the future?

Trick or Treat at Abu Ghraib was beyond disgusting and has forever damaged the image of America. Our soldiers and the Vlakplas archetype mercenaries were beyond cruel. Where is their honor? Where is their love? Where is their humanity?

The rape of the late 14 year old girl, her murder and the murder of her family was beyond disgusting. The U.S. soldiers involved with this should be summarily executed. They are beyond inhuman and shame all of us. To to think a U.S. defense fund for their ordeal was organized. It makes one shudder with horror.

That said, can the various factions in Iraq make peace, after all of the rape and murder? I really doubt it. I have worked as a journalist and photographer in Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, mostly stable countries in that region, but those countries are not anything like what Iraq has decayed into. Iran, Russia and China will not sit by and allow things to work to a way not to their own liking(s). Y

ou can count on it.

Other questions we might consider run through a wide spectrum;

What about the fresh water from the Tigris and Eurphrates? Israel is running out of water. Has a pipeline been proposed? (A few years back, Tony Blair was caught trying to broker a fresh water pipeline from Kurdistan to North Cyprus and then to Israel).

What about Iraq’s oil?

What about the oil pipeline going through Afghanistan?

If the U.S. is the Great Satan and Islam so pure, why is so much heroin coming out of the Bekka Valley and Afghanistan? Do these Muslims know what their drugs to to people in the West? Do they also have no shame and no humanity and no honor?

What about America’s MTV culture trying to turn turn Allah McBeal into Ally McBeal?

What about women in combat roles? Meaning U.S. female soldiers and also Palestinian women carrying out suicide terror bombings. This is not akin to Samson. It’s just E V I L.

What about Central Asian population control? Will the New Age Mother Gaia types allow Iran’s population to continue to grow so fast?

What about declaring victory in Afghanistan not when bin Laden was captured (he probably never will be) or the Taliban defeated (they are now busy retaking the country) but rather when
“women were liberated from the Taliban.”

I count America having lost four wars in the past six years: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Somalia-warlord contest and by proxy, Lebanon.

Now our military is a wreck, Pat Tilman died for nothing, our leaders are cowards and liars, South America, Africa, China and Russia, along with Cuba and North Korea and various drug cartels are alligned against the U.S.

Depleted uranium is making so many of our soldiers sick, we’re in tremendous debt, our border with Mexico is a joke and our children wear pajamas to school.

The center is not holding, in Iraq or many other places it seems. So if you ask will Iraq come totally unglued if and when the U.S. leaves, well, probably the answer is “yes.” Just my two cents but what do I know? I don’t know how my electric can opener works.

Xoliso December 3, 2006 at 1:21 am

“Feldman endeavors to show that America has a moral duty to continue its military occupation of Iraq…If America troops departed, Iraq would probably fall into chaos and civil war. To prevent this dire outcome, America must guide the Iraqis to democracy.”

This is simply wishful thinking by those such as Olmert who are the only people in the world to celebrate the destruction of Iraq. Firstly, Iraqis will guide themselves to whatever future they decided, not the future that ‘benevolent’ foreigners will decide for them. Secondly, America is being worn down militarily, politically and economically in Iraq. The war on the Iraqi people has been the biggest disaster for America since the Vietnam War. The costs alone are draining American will, never mind the human costs in deaths and injury. America is bleeding and will sooner or later be thrown out of the Middle East along with all the other invaders.

Finally, what you call ‘terrorists’ are simply brave men fighting to protect their families and nation from aggressive foreign invaders. The real terrorists are those with imperial ambitions of other peoples land and resources.

Saturdaynightspecial December 3, 2006 at 7:03 am

You miss the point completely. Most already know the solution for all Iraqs are to end governments ability to perform emperialism. Because we know neocons cannot resist using governments to perform holy crusades the same as environmentalists or other “mindless massess” cannot resist convincing governments to do other things that make our lives worse while told will make our lives better.

This topic and it’s discussion are moot, unless you make my point.

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