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Optimism on Iraq

By Luke Smith

The administration of President George W. Bush doesn’t get a lot of credit on Harvard’s campus. At a Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice protest last October, Lecturer on History and Literature Timothy P. McCarthy ’93 said, “The U.S. government poses the greatest threat to world peace.” McCarthy’s view basically sums up the dogmatic anti-Bush spirit of peace protests, and without a doubt this view will characterize today’s anti-war rally.

But hearing Bush talk about his goals for Iraq makes clear that he has an optimistic and admirable vision of peace in the Middle East. In a radio address earlier this month, Bush expressed confidence in the possibility for democratic reforms: “The nation of Iraq—with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people—is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.”

If Bush really is the imperialist boob that protesters make him out to be, he sure doesn’t sound like one. His hope for democracy in Iraq explains why many Republicans and Democrats feel that the U.S. must oust Saddam Hussein, without global consensus if necessary. Iraq can prosper under democratic rule, and democracy also provides a political foundation for the peace that protesters supposedly want. The U.S. must sometimes resort to military intervention to create real peace—a peace that demands Iraqis have the democratic freedoms denied to them by Saddam. Challenging a repressive status quo like the one in Iraq means, in this case, waging a necessary war.

Ousting Saddam promotes both American interests in peace and stability, and Iraqi interests in freedom from oppressive rule. In a fortuitous coincidence of self-interests, both the U.S. and Iraqi civilians can benefit from regime change in Iraq. That peace protesters focus on the former, as opposed to the latter, testifies to their pessimism about Bush, and about Iraq. As a pack of vocal liberals, these protesters have an astonishing lack of faith in human virtue.

Let’s briefly examine the assumptions they make about military invention: First, Bush is a war-hungry oil-monger. This assumption speaks volumes about what the protesters think motivates the Bush administration, and it’s consistent with the disappointing lack of faith in our leaders that characterizes anti-war rallies.

Assumption two: War will not achieve democratic reform in Iraq. On this point, Bush himself is an optimist, affirming that Iraqis are “skilled and educated people” who, in the absence of tyrants like Saddam, will work to sustain the most enlightened form of government possible (representative democracy).

But protesters refuse to believe that “skilled and educated” Iraqis can achieve more enlightened government than Saddam’s tyranny. By implying that Bush masks some sort of Western cultural imperialism in labeling Iraq’s regime as “evil,” the protesters insinuate that we shouldn’t judge Iraqi regimes according to Western standards. Saddam cannot be held accountable for his barbarism, so the fallacy goes, because his brand of tyranny arises from cultural forces the U.S. can’t understand—cultural forces that impede progress towards Westernized democratic government.

Maybe the rhetoric protesters use makes this fallacy less obvious (and therefore less repugnant to casual supporters), but rhetoric doesn’t change the basic idea. Peace protesters offer a gloomy assessment of the Iraqi people’s ability to sustain democratic rule, pessimism that Bush, despite all of his “axis of evil” rhetoric, thankfully does not share.

When Bush called Iraq part of the “axis of evil,” he was being practical, not imperialistic. By acknowledging that Saddam’s dictatorship is mired in bloody Baathist ideology and a hateful doctrine of racial superiority, Bush acknowledges that in the interest of peace Saddam must go. This is a difficult judgment to make, that sometimes a nation’s leader is so corrupted by evil that justice cannot prevail under his rule. Bush has reserved such a judgment only for the world’s most repressive dictatorships. The peace protesters use it to denounce the President of the United States.

Bush, not the peace protesters, has the most hopeful view of what U.S. foreign policy and the Iraqi people can achieve. Let us, as students who value freedom and justice for all the world’s people, reject the brutal repression that today’s anti-war rally would have our government ignore. Let us support the war effort and praise Bush for his vision of peace and democracy in Iraq. Let us affirm our faith not only in Iraq’s capacity for enlightened rule, but also in our own leaders’ capacity for sensitivity and compassion.

Luke Smith ’04, a Crimson editor, is an economics concentrator in Quincy House.

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