Jim Henley has a couple of interesting posts on the subject, with our occupation of Iraq as the focal point. In the first post, he ponders the last words of William Wallace in “Braveheart.”

“Freedom!” cried Wallace as he died, in the movie at least. But what did he mean by that. His Scotland was clan-based, with a system of hereditary rulerships. By “freedom” the historical Wallace could not have meant everything we do in the sense of individual liberty and the circulation of elites. No, he had to have been thinking of freedom’s other meaning: local independence from foreign control.

In one sense of the term, Iraq is “free” if individual Iraqis may speak, assemble, worship and work as they choose, select their leaders without coercion and remain secure in their persons and property from arbitrary search, seizure, arrest and execution. In the other sense of the term, Iraq is free so long as it is not ruled by an outside power.

Certainly true. By toppling Saddam, we’ve more or less given them the first part of this. The second part is certainly less of a focus at the moment but does appear to be something we have in mind reasonably soon. Jim is correct, though, that being occupied by even an ostensibly benevolent foreign power is humiliating.

His subsequent post attempts to explain why it matters:

In the absence of independence, you have, of course, dependence. Where you have dependence, you have contempt on the one side and resentment on the other. Actually, you have both on both sides. Everything from American abuse of Iraqi prisoners to Iraqi abuse of American corpses flows from the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship.

This is true in any disparate power situation, not just international ones. Indeed, the relationship between jailers and prisoners in American penitentiaries is often much more brutal than it should be. Still, unless evidence comes to light that I’m not yet aware of, these attrocities are very limited on both sides. The vast majority of Americans in Iraq are treating the Iraqis well and doing their best to help make it a better place. Most Iraqis apparently understand that, and even expect that their lives will be much better soon, even though they’re chafing at the occupation.

The only thing that can overcome the dynamic is love – real love. . . .


Pity won’t do it. If anything, pity will simply put you into the situations from which contempt and resentment flower. This is the kind of thing that, in other contexts, conservatives and libertarians not only understand, but take as central.

We do not love the Iraqis. We never have, nor they, us. Such love as either party has had has been for a dream of what the other might be. Add to contempt and resentment the fury of disappointment.

This is almost certainly true in the larger sense. Just as domestic welfare programs seldom lift people out of poverty until they take responsibility for their own lives, it’s unlikely that a foreign occupation, however well intentioned, will turn Iraq into a vibrant democracy with a flourishing economy. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean outside intervention can’t be helpful. Welfare and charity programs that do aim to empower people–helping to educate them and teach them lessons of personal responsibility–can give people a chance to make it on their own. Certainly, Iraq has a better chance at long-term democracy and liberty now than it had before the war. Iraq will be running its own internal affairs soon enough. And it’ll be doing it without Saddam Hussein or his sons in charge.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Iraq War, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. riyo says:

    I often wonder why the US always judge things thru it’s own perspective ? And who give the US the right to intervene and force it’s “way of life ” to other people ? aren’t TV SHOWS and MOVIES enough ? the double standard of the term democracy. when some alegedly very democratic and liberal people pulls a gun and put the barrel in the forehead of others and tell them “you should be a democratic and liberal people like us or else ! “….I don’t know may be it’s just me…but this is the way I see it from here in the third world…and I don’t have any objections with charity, aids,loans, grants and any other form of assistance given to the poor countries by the wealthy countries. But if you really want to help, then help sincerely whole heartly without any hidden agendas or stick and carrot systems whatsoever. just be ikhlas. and in the iraq case, it’s like beating a man until he submit and then helping him to get up. it’s a vulgar display of poer and arrogance. and very un-democratic.