Must we become inhumane in order to win the peace?

  • William Raspberry / Washington Post Columnist
  • Sunday, December 26, 2004 9:00pm
  • Opinion

WASHINGTON – Some say we all have a purpose on this Earth. Maybe it is Yaron Brook’s purpose to remind us that as badly as the American venture in Iraq is going, it could be a lot worse.

According to Brook, who is president of the California-based Ayn Rand Institute, our problem in Iraq is not the questionable loyalty of Iraqi soldiers too hastily thrown into action, not our own overextended and underequipped troops, not the failure of the international community to help us out, not even the faulty intelligence and the monumental hubris that got us into Iraq in the first place. No, it is America’s moral cowardice.

Brook’s remarks came a day after 18 Americans were killed in Mosul when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside an American compound.

The blame for those deaths, he said, lies not only with the insurgents, but also with the “suicidal policies” of the Bush administration.

“The insurgency would have been crushed long ago, and (the) attack averted, were it not for America’s altruistic policy of placing the lives of Iraqi civilians above its own self-defense.”

And just how might we have “crushed” the insurgency that seems to be confounding America’s hopes for meaningful elections by the end of January and a reasonably honorable exit from a war we shouldn’t have launched?

“This can be done,” said Brook, “but to do so we must make the insurgency’s complicit civilian population – those who harbor and support the insurgents – pay for the violence that they abet. We must enforce their complete surrender to our presence. Thanks to such a policy, during the occupation of Japan zero soldiers were killed by insurgents and the threat posed by the country was ended.”

You may have thought the coalition forces were, from time to time, insufficiently respectful of Iraqi civilians as they followed tips – not all of them accurate – that insurgents were holed up in this or that neighborhood. You may have thought the rough treatment of women and children – even when it was deemed a military necessity – seemed less likely to win over ordinary Iraqis than to turn them bitterly against us. You may have thought our leaders paid too little attention to such niceties as the Geneva Conventions and judicial due process.

If so, you had it just backward. The shame of the Bush administration, says Brook, is that it “has been unwilling to make hostile Iraqi civilians pay for their crimes … , treated Iraqi lives as sacrosanct and American security and soldiers as dispensable.”

I’ve been trying to picture what an occupation based on Brook’s ideas might look like.

Wouldn’t those “hostile Iraqi civilians” include large numbers of family members who opted to defend their fathers, sons and brothers in their resistance of the American-led occupation, rather than turn them over to the foreign authorities? And wouldn’t an attempt to make them “pay for their crimes” quickly become an irresistible tool for recruiting thousands more terrorists, in Iraq and elsewhere?

Perhaps some of Brook’s advice would have made sense when the primary objective was to defeat Iraq. Surely an argument could be made for doing whatever it took to achieve a military victory – leveling neighborhoods or even whole towns, if it came to that. But now that the objective is no longer to defeat the Iraqis but to win them over, the Brooks approach seems ludicrously wide of the mark – like burning down the barn to get rid of the rats.

“We need a fundamental shift in our moral priorities,” he believes. “We need to see the military place the lives of Americans – including American soldiers -above the lives of Iraqi civilians. To those who insist that we continue to sacrifice for the sake of Iraqi civilians, I say that the death of (18) Americans … , and the many more to come, are on your heads.”

If Brook and the Ayn Rand Institute hadn’t been around for so long, I’d be tempted to think Karl Rove invented them to make the Bush administration seem temperate and humane by contrast.

If so, it really wasn’t necessary. Even those of us who thought President Bush made a hideous moral and military blunder in launching the war are largely sympathetic to the way he is conducting the aftermath – not because it is particularly successful but because we can’t think of anything better.

William Raspberry is a Washington Post columnist. Contact him by writing to willrasp@washpost.com.

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