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  • Bush’s Predicament in Iraq An Outcome of a (Mis)conception of Modernity
  • Zaid N. Mahir (bio)

On the first anniversary of 9/11, George W. Bush wrote that the ideal of freedom had been the target of the World Trade Center attackers and concluded, “as the greatest power on earth we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.” David Harvey, who cites this statement in his A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005, 6), places it and other statements by the president within a certain frame of thought, neo-liberalism. He then interprets the radical economic and political decisions made by Paul Bremer in Iraq, particularly the decision to privatize oil, in the light of neo-liberal thought dominant in the Anglo American world of politics since the late 1970s. The individual freedoms allegedly offered to the Iraqi people was immediately and closely associated with free markets and trade, this association being one characteristic feature of neo-liberal thought. Later in his book, Harvey explains how neo-conservatives in the United States managed to utilize neo-liberal [End Page 187] thought to the advantage of the U.S. imperial tradition by aligning themselves with the Christian right (49–51). The alliance is in harmony with Bush’s earlier assertion, in the same speech, that “Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world” (6). It underlines the missionary attitude he has taken since he started the so-called War on Terror in 2001. In his book State of Denial (2006), Bob Woodward quotes Richard Armitage as saying, “[Bush] really believes that his role is to change the face of the world and that attack, 9/11, did it” (100). This comment came immediately after the Republicans won the midterm elections in November 2002. It reflects the impression Bush had left on his close circle of senior officials and staff in the administration. Overwhelmed by a sense of hegemonic duty toward the world, the U.S. president urged the use of military power as the only way to enforce freedom as a God-given right.

Bush’s Anglo American Heritage

We have a paradoxical situation here. Bush’s messianic discourse emphasizes individual equality and anti-authoritarianism as key factors in the making of a free world. With the current situation in Iraq, with the country on the brink of a civil war, one cannot help wondering: How did Bush’s assertions of the so-called God-given right to freedom come to justify assertions of power by the United States at the expense of stability, security, and peace in Iraq and the region?

My thesis is that George Bush’s freedom and democracy military campaign, and the support it received from certain circles in the United States, reflect a frame of thought that predates neo-liberalism. The latter, as Harvey explains, emerged in England in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was informed by the desire to create a new socioeconomic reality; a world of better opportunities for individuals to invest in free markets, via encouragement of entrepreneurial projects; and an eye to diminishing class power in favor of a fair distribution of world resources and, therefore, greater social justice. Neo-liberal theory has aligned itself, since its conception, with an ideal of freedom grounded in the importance of the individual and the making of a more just market. [End Page 188]

However, emphasis on the role of the individual in creating a better world was not neo-liberalism’s invention. Rather, it is a direct result of the European Renaissance and its problematic offspring, the Enlightenment. Having restlessly inherited from the Medieval church a God-centered world, Renaissance thinkers and philosophers, rediscovering the prehistoric heritage of ancient Greece, retrieved for humanity its position in the center of the Universe. With the help of such rediscovered schools of thought as Naturalism, Neo-Platonism, and Humanism, the world came to be seen as human-centered, and individuality was promoted and celebrated. To this end many notable English Renaissance writers and poets sang; Shakespeare’s epigrammatic line in Hamlet has become exemplary: What a piece of work is Man!

The notion of...


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pp. 187-209
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