A Bitter After-Taste in Iraq

by | Jun 17, 2014 | Foreign Policy, Middle East & Israel

You cannot create instant freedom like you are making instant coffee.

The news from Iraq that Islamic terrorists have now taken over cities that American troops liberated during the Iraq war must have left an especially bitter after-taste to Americans who lost a loved one who died taking one of those cities, or to a survivor who came back without an arm or leg, or with other traumas to body or mind.

Surely we need to learn something from a tragedy of this magnitude.

Some say that we should never have gone into Iraq in the first place. Others say we should never have pulled our troops out when we did, leaving behind a weak and irresponsible government in charge.

At a minimum, Iraq should put an end to the notion of “nation-building,” especially nation-building on the cheap, and to the glib and heady talk of “national greatness” interventionists who were prepared to put other people’s lives on the line from the safety of their editorial offices.

Those who are ready to blame President George W. Bush for everything bad that has happened since he left office should at least acknowledge that he was a patriotic American president who did what he did for the good of the country — an assumption that we can no longer safely make about the current occupant of the White House.

If President Bush’s gamble that we could create a thriving democracy in the Middle East — one of the least likely places for a democracy to thrive — had paid off, it could have been the beginning of a world-changing benefit to this generation and to generations yet unborn.

A thriving free society in the Muslim world, and the values and example that such a society could represent, might undermine the whole hate-filled world terrorist movement that is seeking to turn back civilization to a darker world of centuries past.

But creating such a society, if it is possible at all, cannot be done on the cheap, with politicians constantly calling for us to announce to the world — including our enemies — when we are going to leave. The very idea is silly, but everything silly in not funny.

We haven’t yet announced when we are going to pull our troops out of Germany or Japan, and World War II was over more than 60 years ago. Turning those militaristic countries around was one of the great achievements in human history. Their neighboring countries have been able to enjoy a peace and security that they had not known for generations.

Perhaps what was achieved in Germany and Japan made it seem that we might achieve something similar in Iraq. But “the greatest generation” that had fought and survived the horrors of war around the world was under no illusion that trying to turn our defeated enemies around would be easy, quick and cheap.

Creating democracy in Germany and Japan was a goal, but not a fetish. Creating a stable and viable government amid the ruins and rubble of war was the first priority and a major responsibility. You cannot create instant democracy like you are making instant coffee.

There are prerequisites for a free society, and the foundations of democracy cannot be built on chaotic conditions with widespread uncertainty and fear. To hold elections for the sake of holding elections is to abdicate responsibility for the sake of appearances.

The biggest danger is that you will create a government that will work at cross purposes to everything you are trying to achieve — a government you cannot rein in, much less repudiate, without destroying your own credibility as representatives of democracy. That has happened in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

By contrast, in both Germany and Japan power was turned over to elected officials at such times and in such degree as conditions seemed to indicate. Eventually, both countries resumed their roles as sovereign nations. But we didn’t publish a timetable.

Today, with terrorists threatening to at least fragment Iraq, if not take it over, it is a sobering thought that Barack Obama and his key advisers have a track record of having been wrong about Iraq and other foreign policy issues for years, going back before they took office — and no track record of learning from their mistakes.

Editor’s Note: For an alternative viewpoint read Dr. John Lewis’ Nothing Less Than Victory, and his articles: The Moral Lesson of Hiroshima, The Military Doctrine of Altruism, The Impractical, Immoral, Forward Strategy of Freedom, The Threat of a Faith-Based Defense of America, President Bush’s “Sensitive” War, and  President Bush’s Deadly Iranian Concession. Cartoon by Cox and Forkum.


  1. A fine commentary by Mr. Sowell, but I disagree that Obama and his advisors have a track record of being “wrong.” I’m certain that Obama does these things deliberately, sure of their outcome, just as he has favored Muslim immigration and the Muslim Brotherhood, a criminally porous border through which drug cartel killers and countless illegal immigrants enter like veritable armies to “occupy” the U.S. The killers here depend on the perpetuation of irrational drug laws to sell their stuff, and the immigrants come here to go on welfare and become registered Democrats to perpetuate the welfare state. Now Obama has made it illegal for employers — or government contractors at least — to “discriminate” against homosexuals and transgenders and the like. Everything Obama has done TO this country is conscious and malicious. I wouldn’t surprise me if he lets the ISIS overrun Baghdad and capture countless Americans, whom he won’t lift a finger to help, except to partly evacuate our fortified embassy there. Obama is evil.

  2. It appears that Dr. Sowell has been living on the moon for the last 12 years or so. For someone with a PHD he seems to have a total misunderstanding of history and culture. Comparing Japan and Germany to the Iraq and Afganistan is like comparing apples and rocks. These two factions of Islam have been fighting eachother for 1300 years, 6 times longer than U.S has been a country. If we stayed 100 years in year 101 a civil war would have broken out. If Dr. Sowell is suggesting that we stay in these countries for good then he is not to be taken seriously. I served in Germany and I have a nephew serving in Japan. For the most part they want us there. The Iraqies and the Afgans do not. Why should any American go and die for Bagdad? I think Dr. Sowell needs to live in the real world.

  3. Iraq will never become a free country until it understands the principle of individual rights. How can we expect them to do that when, in the US, a country founded on this principle, our commentators constantly insist on the political system they call “democracy”, a system our founders did not want and considered to be a path to mob rule. We are a republic based on individual rights, not a democracy. Democracy only comes in for the purpose of voting for the people that will hold the political offices. Once elected, their power is supposed to be severely limited to the protection of individual rights. The fact that this is no longer true in America and that we have commentators and politicians on the “right” who continue to use the word “democracy” to portray the ideal political system (the left does this intentionally as they are essentially socialists/welfare statists), shows that there are very few people that understand and are capable of defending individual rights.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college. Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read the THOMAS SOWELL column in your hometown paper.


What do you think?

We are always interested in rational feedback and criticism. Feel free to share your thoughts using this form.

We will post responses that we think are of interest to our readers in our Letters section.

Help Capitalism Magazine get the pro-capitalist message out.

With over 10,000 articles readable online Capitalism Magazine is completely free. We rely on the generosity of our readers to keep us going. So if you already donate to us, thank you! And if you don’t, please do consider making a donation today. One-off donations – or better yet, monthly donations – are hugely appreciated. You can find out more here. Thank you!

Related Articles

Voice of Capitalism

Free email weekly newsletter.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest