Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iraq is NOT America

The Bush Administration, ever desperate to spin Iraq to its advantage, continues to turn to a strained analogy to explain why things aren't going as smoothly as planned... No, check that. There was no planning. That was the problem. Let's say... as smoothly as hoped, or anticipated, or stupidly predicted (by Cheney, Wolfowitz, et al.).

The anology is simple: Baghdad circa 2005 is the same, pretty much, as Philadelphia circa 1787. The Iraqis are having trouble writing a constitution? Hey, things were tough back then, too. There's a tough insurgency to repel? Hey, America had its share of violence, too. This whole damned nation-building thing is taking too long? Hey, it took 11 years for the American colonies to move from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution.

Here's how Fred Kaplan put it in a recent column at Slate, which explains just why Iraq isn't America: "When things go particularly badly in Iraq—anarchy, insurgency, and now the delays in crafting a constitution—President George W. Bush and his top aides point reassuringly to the turbulence surrounding our own Founding Fathers' exertions to forge a republic." As things continue to go badly, expect more of the same.

Is Iraq like America? Iraq would be so lucky.


In his latest column, Kaplan examines the work-in-progress Iraqi constitution and finds it wanting: "[I]t's hard to see how [it] could serve either as a document that unifies the new Iraqi nation or as a clear guide to governance."

Some of it is, admittedly, quite "noble". For example: "Article 7 forbids racism, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing. Article 35 guarantees 'human freedom and dignity.' Article 36 guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press." All good.

But "[t]he constitution (or at least the part that has been released) says nothing about how the country is to be governed." "Nor does the document lay out the powers of parliament, the precise division of powers between the central and regional governments, or the existence of a branch that interprets the law." All not-so-good.

Furthermore, and more fundamentally, "[t]he charter is vague to the point of vacuousness in its most basic proclamations," as when, in Article 2, it states that no law may contravene "Islamic law," "the principles of democracy," or "the rights and basic liberties enumerated in this constitution". Uh-huh. And how is that exactly? How is "Islamic law" understood? What, specifically, are "the principles of democracy"? And, more to the point, aren't Islamic law and liberalism somewhat contradictory? Or, at least, isn't there an enormous tension between them?

These are serious questions. Shouldn't they be answered in a serious way?

Anyway, check it out. Kaplan's column is a must-read as we await the legal founding of the new Iraq.

No, President Bush, Iraq is no America. You should know better than to make that ridiculous analogy. And you should have a better strategy for dealing with and responding to the nation-building process that you started.

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  • It took over a decade for the US to come up with it's constitution, and even then it took an additional 10 amendments to make it palatable to many. It took 7 years for South Africa to write and approve their constitution while also reaching national reconcilliation for the atrocities of apartheid. And it took a year for occupied Japan, a nation economically and socially beaten down, to approve a constitution it was handed by MacArthur.

    And we expect the Iraqis to forgive over a millenia of sectarian and tribal violence, write a constitution that encorporates democracy, human rights, and Islam, and do it all in less time than peaceful Japan did after WWII? Not likely.

    (Shameless plug - I've blogged about this issue in detail on my own blog.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:48 AM  

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