In Defense of Flip-Flopping

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Hardly anyone noticed when President Bush signed a proclamation giving Iraqis the right to export thousands of products to the US without paying any duties. After imposing years of duties and tariffs on many dozens of goods from timber to textiles to shrimp during his term, this might be his first action fully consistent with free trade. How about expanding this proclamation to all other countries in the world?

Only one problem: Iraq’s duty-free status exempts oil, since of course that would make Iraqi oil competitive with US oil, and we can’t have that. Make that two problems: there isn’t anything else left in Iraq to export. Oh, there is, of course, the vast reservoir of anti-US hatred endemic to the population there that can be exported to the world.

There might have been many actual goods to sell in world markets before the 1990s, when Iraq was prosperous, peaceful, liberal, and civilized by comparison to some other countries in that region. But trade sanctions drove the country to the status of the third world in the 1990s, killing hundreds of thousands or maybe millions, actions which gave rise to Islamic extremism and bolstered recruits for al Qaeda.

And now that Bush is running the show in Iraq, he decides that free trade is a great idea. Talk about flip-flop. Had his father not decided to wage low-grade warfare, a policy continued by Clinton, we might not be in the mess we are today. Our relations with Iraq would be much like they are with fifty other countries run by despots but with which we otherwise have normal relations.

When I first saw Bush ads about Kerry’s flip-flopping, it struck me as a weak attack. Who cares if someone has changed a position if the person is going from wrong to right? Isn’t that better than dogged persistence in error?

For example, Bush has doggedly defended his decision to unleash Hell on Iraq and cause mass bloodshed, despite the fact that the rationale for having done so was entirely trumped up. Bush himself has never wavered in his support for spending other people’s money to blow up property and people in distant lands; only the rationale changes. The effects, however, do not change: increasing, not reducing, the drive to attack US soil in retaliation.

Accusing Kerry of flip-flopping is also the way Bush has answered some of the few sensible comments Kerry has thus far made in this election campaign. The “hard reality,” he says, is that the Iraq War has led to “spreading violence, growing extremism, havens for terrorists that weren’t there before.”

He now says that rather than wanting to increase the number of troops, he wants to pull out the troops. Hear hear! It’s about time he states the obvious. Yes, he voted for the war, but why does that mean that Kerry should have to embrace all the disasters that have resulted, including all the spending?

However, the Bush regime can only focus on Kerry’s failure to persist in error: “John Kerry voted for the war but voted against funding for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," said spokesman Steve Schmidt. “This is another example of John Kerry’s indecision, vacillation, and political gamesmanship.”

Now, agree or disagree with Kerry, it is not political gamesmanship to decry a war that a nation is currently fighting. In fact, it is one of the most difficult political stands to take. You are subjected to smears, lies, and every manner of threat. People say you are guilty of treason and sedition, and suggest that you are undermining the war effort. You are blamed for inspiring the enemy to kill our troops. It is said that you have no faith in the nation state and that you are unpatriotic. Truly, criticizing a current war is one of the most difficult — even courageous — things that a public official can ever do.

By comparison, one of the most cowardly acts is to persist in a disaster for reasons of pride and power. That is what the Bush administration has done in Iraq. It’s as if no one at the White House has noticed how the war is going. Every day, there are more attacks on Americans, more deaths of Iraqis, more opposition to the US in the country and region. Every day, the US controls less and less of the country, and the extremist Islamists more and more. Major fighting and killing is going on even in the places that the US claims to control.

Listen to the remarkable comments by Maj. Gen. John R. Batiste, commander of the Army First Infantry Division, who is running operations in Samarra. “Samarra is a city where Iraqis are taking charge to throw out anti-Iraqi forces. No one has ceded the city to insurgents and there is no cordon. What we have in Samarra is the good people of Iraq, led by far-sighted provincial and city leadership, senior sheiks, and clerics, standing up to the enemy.”

There’s only one problem: it’s sheer fantasy. Reporters who talk to residents say that insurgents are fully in control, just as they are in Ramadi, Falluja, and Baqub. The US military is just dreaming, while killing. The bloodshed is going to their heads.

The US runs a puppet government that would immediately collapse if the US pulled out. Any public officials that have cooperated with the US, any troops that have fought for the US, and any merchants that have gone along with the occupation, will immediately fear for their lives. The longer the US stays, the more this will be true. Leaving today will probably produce disaster, it is true; but leaving in six months or six years will produce an even greater disaster. And meanwhile, the bloodshed that occurs on a daily basis cries out to Heaven for vengeance.

Would that someone in the White House wake up and look at reality. Would that someone there be willing to tell Mad George and Tricky Dick that they have lost their minds, that the war is a catastrophe, and that there is no easy way out. Someone needs to tell these people that every day the war goes on, the worse terrorism will become. As to whether speaking truth to power would make a difference in this case, I don’t know. The exercise of power is like a drug, or maybe like demonic possession. The people running the country and trying to run the world today are high on it.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of, and author of Speaking of Liberty.

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