TCS Daily


Bush the Barbarian?

By Stephen W. Stanton - February 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Q: What is best in life?

A: To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.


No, those are not the words of George W. Bush. Film buffs immediately recognize Conan the Barbarian's answer to a question as old as human history. The entire plot of the 1982 film revolved around Conan's quest to avenge the death of his father.

Some activists believe Conan and Dubya have a lot in common. When asked why Bush supported military action in Iraq, Martin Sheen responded, "I think he'd like to hand his father Saddam Hussein's head and win his approval for what happened after the 1991 Gulf War." With a quarter million troops stationed in the Persian Gulf, Bush has assembled the most elaborate head hunting expedition in human history. But is that really his motivation for going after Saddam Hussein?

Well, you could ask the President himself. He answers the question all the time, most recently in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, "America's cause is right and just: liberty for an oppressed people, and security for the American people." He also articulated his long term vision, "By the resolve and purpose of America, and of our friends and allies, we will make this an age of progress and liberty."

What is best in life, Mr. President? Security, progress and liberty, if his speech is any guide, but not revenge. Getting Saddam's head is merely one possible means to achieve the laudable goals he set out. He believes these causes are worth fighting for. "If we have to act, we will act to restrain the violent, and defend the cause of peace." An immutable paradox of the human condition is that sometimes violence is the only way to achieve peace. That is why police officers carry guns and billy clubs. That is why so many women enroll in self-defense classes. That is why nations with no territorial ambitions must maintain and sometimes use their military forces.

Conan the Ba'ath-barian?

However, not everybody has the same priorities. Unlike President Bush, Saddam Hussein proudly shares the philosophy of Conan the Barbarian. Before facing superior forces in a hopeless battle, Conan prayed to his god, "No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, and why we died. All that matters is that today, two stood against many." His prayer did not mention peace, liberty, progress, or hope. It was clear that above all else, Conan valued the honor and courage of battle against hopeless odds.

Sound familiar? A similarly situated Saddam told Dan Rather in an interview, "We will die here. We will die in this country, and we will maintain our honor, the honor that is required of - in front of our people." He went on to say "we are not going to succumb, neither to the United States nor to any other power. Even if such a power, however strong as you describe it, even if this power is multiplied by whatever amount or size more than it is now, then we will continue to defend ourselves, to fight such a power if they attack because defeat comes only from God Almighty."

What is best in life to Mr. Hussein? Pride, courage, nationalism... And more than a dozen palaces. These are what Saddam will fight and die to defend, killing thousands in the process.

What Is Worst In Life?

There are certainly more than two ways to look at the world. Bush and Hussein both believe some causes are worth defending. However, thousands of protesters disagree that anything could ever justify the use of force. French President Jacques Chirac is one of them. Chirac stated his position categorically, "War is an admission of failure" and "We consider that war is always, always, the worst solution."

What is best in life, Mr. Chirac? Peace at all costs. War is worst in life.

Then again, if war is always the worst solution, then why does France maintain a military numbering a half million members? According to Chirac's statement, war would not even be justified in self-defense. All World War II jokes aside, I would be worried if I lived in Martinique. France is responsible for the defense of the island and more than a dozen other overseas territories.

Fortunately, France has demonstrated that force can be justified in some circumstances. Recent French exploits in current and former colonies suggest Chirac is not a pacifist. Back in 1985, France was actually quicker to use force than the cowboy Americans. At the time, the French government actually bombed a Greenpeace ship, killing an activist in the process. The official position of the French government: war is bad, but hypocrisy is OK, especially if it means silencing dissent.

What Chirac seems to value most is consensus. When potential EU members spoke out against the French position, Chirac lashed out, "It is not really responsible behavior, it is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet." He even issued a loosely veiled threat to block admission into the EU for nations that disagreed with the French position on Iraq.

Let me ask again: What is best in life, Mr. Chirac? Peace at all costs (except for unilateral French exploits) and consensus (even if by extortion).

Bringing What Is Best In Life

So there you have it: Three completely different answers to Conan's question. They underpin three distinct worldviews that cannot peacefully coexist among world powers. Bush is willing to wage war to protect the security of the American people and to bring liberty and progress to the world. Saddam is willing to wage war as an end unto itself, to establish pride and honor. Chirac is willing to pay any price to avoid war, so long as French interests are not compromised.

These philosophical differences make war all but inevitable. The two opposing sides both have causes they deem worth fighting for. For all of Chirac's bluster, France has repeatedly demonstrated a certain "moral flexibility" that destroys its credibility as an advocate for peace. As long as Saddam controls Iraq, nothing can prevent military action.

Fortunately, the war can and should yield tremendous side benefits: liberating the Iraqi people, eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, disrupting terrorist networks, pressuring other Arab regimes to reform, removing the greatest barrier to global economic development, and reviving the American economy.

In other words, the war should bring security, liberty, and progress, not the kind of outcome that would make Conan very happy. But Americans and Iraqis should be pleased. So will the French (if they are ever willing to admit their mistakes). Imagine if one day, leaders of every nation thought security, liberty and progress were worth defending.

Maybe then the United Nations would actually work.
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