What Being A Green Beret In Iraq Taught Me About Economics and Freedom

UNITED STATES - JULY 18: Nick Freitas, Republican candidate for Congress from Virginias 7th district, greets delegates at the 2020 7th District Republican Convention in Doswell, Va., on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
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Green Berets, or Army Special Forces, are a specially trained unit within the US Military, specifically designed to engage in Unconventional Warfare (UW) and Counter Insurgency (COIN). They have many additional areas of expertise, but UW and COIN form the basis of the unit’s existence. As such, they are trained to work in 12 person teams which operate “By, Through and With” the local population in order to achieve their objectives. 

As you may expect, there is a great deal of “door kicking” involved in such an occupation, but the Green Berets’ main function is to work with indigenous groups. This includes training, advising, and developing a cultural understanding of the operational environment they are working in, so that they can accomplish their mission. 

I was serving in Iraq in 2006 as a Green Beret when I noticed that every village we visited and every tribal elder we spoke to were requesting generators, simply in order to keep the power on. I found this to be an interesting request as we were operating in a country that — on the surface — didn’t lack access to the natural resources used by the rest of the world to keep the lights on and fuel their respective economies. How was it possible that such an oil rich country lacked the basic resources to provide power?

During a discussion with an Iraqi Colonel, I posed this very question. Being that the need for generators was so prevalent, how was it that some enterprising Iraqi had not started a business providing the necessary resources? The Colonel smiled and proceeded to explain that in Iraq, there were restrictions and regulations on the size and type of generators that could be imported into the country or developed locally. This led to a lack of supply of large generators. I could certainly understand the problem with government regulations standing in the way of progress, but why couldn’t smaller generators be used?

He explained that Iraq is largely a tribal society. Therefore, if you were providing power to your cousin and they were unable to pay, you wouldn’t be inclined to shut off their power. I can understood that conundrum, so I asked why this problem wasn’t avoided by choosing to provide power to people in a different area.

He finally looked at me and said, “Why would we go to the trouble when the Americans will provide it for free?” That’s when the lightbulb went on. Our own policies in Iraq were stunting the very organic economic progress we were attempting to ensure. By providing certain products and services — at the expense of the US taxpayer — we were standing in the way of the development of necessary markets within Iraq.

The lesson was simple. In a war-torn area, assistance can be warranted and even needed, but when you infantilize an entire population through economic dependency, you are not doing them any favors in the long run. Such a state of affairs raises the question of whether this was the actual objective, with the goal to control people instead of creating an environment of political and economic independence.  

If this economic lesson applies to a place like Iraq, which was undergoing significant political and economic changes in the midst of conflict, it is even more applicable to countries where such difficulties do not present themselves. 

When confronting poverty or a lack of economic development, it can be incredibly tempting for well-meaning policy makers and politicians to automatically assume that the “solution” is government control and redistribution of resources. To take products or services from one area and mandate by law that they be used in another. But an emphasis on “redistribution” ignores the fundamental question that first needs to be asked. Why aren’t the necessary products and services being provided in the under-served area in the first place? Without first answering this question, the redistributionist ignores the underlying conditions in order to temporarily alleviate a problem, instead of actually addressing it in a way that prevents it from continuing. 

I used to believe that the goal of redistributionists was noble and genuine, and that it was only their methods that were flawed. I am beginning to think that there is another goal which does not make its way into editorials or campaign speeches: the desire for control. 

A population which becomes dependent upon government subsidy or intervention for its economic wellbeing is no longer free in any real sense. The incentive to create, adapt and innovate is automatically thwarted by a political elite which treats them like children and, like all bad parents, expects them to obey lest they lose access to the benefits they are now receiving. 

In war-torn Iraq, I learned why such an approach is completely counter-productive. Imagine my surprise when I found a similar approach being applied here at home, for the same reason. 

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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