The new Iraq idol refuses to make fire, despite ever louder exhortations by Bush and Rumsfeld and Jerry Bremer to do so. The whole world watches as America’s neo-Jacobin prophets of Baal desperately plead with their idol, a new Iraq of our liking, to light a fire under the sacrificial bullock. We slaughtered the poor dictatorship that had the misfortune of no longer being a friend of Washington. Now why can’t the Iraqi Governing Council and the Iraqi people move forward and get busy, just the way we want them to?
First our idol worshippers sang praises to liberty. They called their work Iraqi Liberation. They pronounced the formation of a national government, the Iraq Governing Council, full of handpicked friends, many of whom miss government meetings because they are back home in Europe and America tending to their private business ventures. They pleaded with their creation to do something, anything, to give a sign of life or show some interest in the welfare of Iraq.
Nothing is happening. The Bible reports that at noontime Elijah taunted and mocked the worshippers of Baal, saying "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." Indeed, how precisely like our handcrafted council — and how unlike the real and varied homegrown political and economic organizations of the Iraqi people that we continue to deny.
It is just past noon, and Bush is crying aloud, "We will bring the killers to justice." General Abizaid whispers to the Baal prophets, "There’s only 5,000 insurgents in Iraq." Jerry Bremer genuflects with the discomfited Texas transplant, praying for the council to write a constitution and take responsibility.
Bush and company are beginning to understand that idols made by men don’t deliver a hell of a lot, except misery. But what is so bad about building an idol to Liberty? Isn’t that a good thing?
Unfortunately, the closest match between George W. Bush’s goals and the concept of liberty appears to be Frdric Bastiat’s "philanthropic tyranny."
Bastiat describes philanthropic tyranny, in his work The Law.
While society is struggling toward liberty, these famous men who put themselves at its head are filled with the spirit of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They think only of subjecting mankind to the philanthropic tyranny of their own social inventions. Like Rousseau, they desire to force mankind docilely to bear this yoke of the public welfare that they have dreamed up in their own imaginations.
Bastiat quotes a lesser known Jacobin, Billaud-Varennes.
A people who are to be returned to liberty must be formed anew. A strong force and vigorous action are necessary to destroy old prejudices, to change old customs, to correct depraved affections, to restrict superfluous wants, and to destroy ingrained vices…. Citizens, the inflexible austerity of Lycurgus created the firm foundation of the Spartan republic. The weak and trusting character of Solon plunged Athens into slavery. This parallel embraces the whole science of government.
Bush shares much with this minor Jacobin. Strong force and vigorous action are what we need. A weak and trusting character will plunge Iraq into slavery. Bush adopts fully the idea that there is a "whole science of government" embraced by these beliefs. That science, one suspects, is a snack-size package of 21st century totalitarianism.
Bush also shares the Jacobin’s arrogance, and exceeds Billaud-Varennes only in shallowness and a toddler-like desire for simultaneous simplicity and control. The problem is, as Bastiat knew and as is today painfully obvious, what we have here a classic case of the dog that won’t hunt.
Philanthropic tyranny cannot deliver the goods in Iraq, or anywhere else. Like the frustrated worshippers of Baal, the Bush administration is trying everything to no avail. From Operation Iraqi Freedom, it has shifted to Operation Iron Hammer, kicked off this week by General Abizaid in response to increasingly successful insurgent attacks against military, police and civilian targets. Neoconservative anger at the god that won’t deliver is indeed rising. They wonder if perhaps more human sacrifice will do the trick.
Amazingly, Republicans and their Democratic contenders all continue to worship this idol. Almost to a man, they cherish the belief that the virtuous United States, from the outside, with force and perseverance and "staying the course," can create in a place a new people, a new culture, can destroy customs and old prejudices. Pol Pot tried it, as did Mao and Stalin, and all they racked up were millions of rotting corpses and scarred generations. We ourselves tried it in the South with Reconstruction, and in Vietnam. Our track record stinks. I wonder sometimes why no candidate is pointing this out. In an age when we willingly send our children to enjoy an afternoon of murder and rampant destruction in movies like Kill Bill, not a single politician will admit "I see dead people."
By afternoon, worshippers of Baal were cutting themselves up and ripping off their clothes, writhing in unspeakable suicidal frustration.
We are approaching late afternoon in Washington. The seams between the Pentagon and its neoconservative sponsors are ripping with netherworldly screeches, and the President and vice-President wail and beat their chests with frustration.
By evening, you know the rest of the story. The real Power to light fires, and put them out, is called upon by Elijah. Baal worshippers get an eye opening experience. The false idol is destroyed, and the people disperse. Iraq will survive, and ultimately heal, on its own and with soul intact, Baal and American philanthropic tyranny rightfully rejected. There will be fire and smoke and pain, but sanity and health will ultimately prevail.
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.