Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

On messy constitution making

I like Justin Paulette’s retelling of the messy ways in which the American Constitution was ratified because the disorderly nature of the process comes through to clearly. Then he wants you to think about Iraq. Can they do it? Has it been messy, what with shouting and boycotts and revisions and killings? Yet, human nature being what it is, there is plenty of room for optimism. Or, put another way, we have opened the Pandora’s box of freedom in Iraq and the region.  

Discussions - 9 Comments

I might be more credulous of the comparison if there had been examples from America’s consitutional history of, for example, discontented Connecticut farmers blowing canons at "traitorous" Pennsylvania children getting candy and toys from the "invading" French soldiers. We would be so lucky if the "messy" factions in Iraq found expression for their "disagreements" through proliferating, oh, how does she put it, "highly charged literature." Let’s just do what we can with Iraq and mark it down to a lesson learned in the school of imposing self-government....

oh, so THAT’s what we’re supposed to call it over there now - the "Pandora’s Box of Freedom"? the contrary to every aspect of reality approach?

I think Skeptic and Josh may be missing the historical point a bit.

Skeptic is correct that the current struggle for a free society in Iraq is of a nastier sort than ours was. The struggle in Iraq has the added difficulties of 1) two centuries progress in firepower and 2) rather than fighting a British Empire set on keeping its colonies under control, Iraqis are fighting a murderous ideology that doesn’t shy away from, but indeed thrives upon, killing innocents at any opportunity.

One can snidely characterize the efforts in Iraq as "imposed self-government" and can "mark it down" as a lesson that free societies had better not challenge tyrants who threaten world order and murder their own people. But one should hesitate before begging the rest of us to take such a narrow lesson away from this great endeavor.

Whatever your political or emotional objections to the Iraq War are, they do not change the fact that our Iraqi allies are struggling to build a constitutional democracy in a land that has never known one. And they are fighting a treacherous foe, Islamofascists, that would turn the entire region into a wasteland of hatred, forced ignorance, and death... had they the chance (not to mention a base from which to launch further attacks against the Free Societies). For one, I’m thankful that our Iraqi friends, our allies, and our soldiers are fighting to prevent it.

Skeptic and josh, that we had this little fracas called the Civil War (circa 650K dead out of a pop of abt 30 million) to settle the tensest issues left over from our period of constitution-making. Interestngly, America in 1860 was roughly the same size that Iraq is today. It’s unlikely that Iraq (even if it has that civil war that’s always being predicted) is going to experience a cataclysm anywhere near as bloody as our Civil War. But would you look at the US and call it a hopeless quagmire, or suggest that our own internal war was a game not worth the candle?

And not to be too pedantic, but according to Ron Chernow’s recent bio of Hamilton, there were indeed border incidents (often connected w/ trade and customs disputes) between states under the Articles of Confederation that sometimes involved shots being fired. There were serious fears held by serious people that these dustups could sow the seeds of fullblown interstate warfare.

How many jihadis, violent ex-Baathists, and so on do you think there are in Iraq? Surely they number in the thousands, no more. There are 25 million or more Iraqis. We are facing a remnant that is clever, ruthless, violent, well-funded, and persistent, but in the final analysis, it is a remnant just the same. Saddam isn’t coming back, and neither is some ersatz caliphate. This is an arduous mopping-up operation, but even the gut-wrenching bad days (like reading of the 10 Marines who gave their lives yesterday) shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of the longer perspective: The Middle East is changing, on the whole for the better (as Middle Easterners themselves will say), and the only way the terrorists in Iraq can win is if we lose resolve.

Peter: seems to me that Skeptic is right. For analytical purposes, the relevant question is not whether Iraq in 2005 is like the former British colonies in North American in the 1770s (don’t forget the Articles). That might be an interesting question for purposes of rallying sagging support back home, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the comparison holds water.

How about comparisons to Algeria, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Iran, Egypt, perhaps Pakistan, Lebanon? There are lots of examples of constitution-building and failures of constitution-building out there. Paulette concedes as much, although his apparent need to combat relativism with a reference to unchanging human nature mitigates his insight that the comparison probably is a stretch.

a couple of Brett’s cases, then. Turkey fought a nasty internal war from 184 to 2000 that killed probably 50K. The Turkish constitution stands, and the regime has become substantially more liberal-democratic since the end of that conflict, for various reasons. Turkey has a famously effective and cohesive army, of course. We are trying now to build Iraq an effective army--always a risk from democracy’s point of view, given the danger of military interventionism in politics--but a risk that plainly has to be run in Iraq.

Lebanon is now--after its own civil war and 15 years of Syrian occupation--seriously considering scrapping the consociational communalism written into its constitution and going with a more (at least formally) liberal model. Lebanon, the one Arab country in the world before post-Saddam Iraq that could be classed as a parliamentary democracy, just had the freest elections in its entire history this past spring. Both Turkey and Lebanon have passed through periods of severe internal strife and are now farther evolved in the direction of liberal democracy (w/ significant problems remaining in both cases, of course) than they have ever been.

PS: Sure, the fact that a comparison might rally support doesn’t mean that it necessarily holds water, but it doesn’t mean that doesn’t either. The two are logically independent.

Perhaps...the Pandora article mentions that we are still messing around with the old dictator, someone asked me today why Saddam Hussein is still alive...We know he is guilty...why is Saddam kept around to insult the Iraqi people? Find him guilty and kill him already!

Does either the example of Turkey or the example of Lebanon tell us whether (or how much) U.S. support is necessary for a democratic transition to succeed? The lesson of Turkey and militaristic and secular modernization would seem to counsel against dismantling the Iraqi army. That ship having sailed, though, will an army develop faster under our tutelage - and with many ex-army members fighting a war of resistance - or if we allow the sides of the incipient civil war to proceed without our interference?

Lebanon’s emergence from civil war and in the direction of a more secure constitution was helped, not hurt, by the Israeli withdrawal, no?

you’re ignoring, it seems to me, the fact that the Iraqi armed forces as they existed under Saddam were never going to be an instrument of "reform from above" the way that Ataturk’s army was. On balance, I’d suggest we’re better off with the new-model army that we’re creating, and at any rate I don’t buy the "we disbanded the Iraqi army" line. As Walt Slocombe points out, the Iraqi regular army had effectively ceased to exist by the close of the ground war. And the toughest nuts out in Anbar today are much more likely to have been cadres of Saddam’s Waffen SS (the Republican Guards and Special Republican Guards) than mere regulars.

Not sure that Israeli withdrawal made much difference either way in Lebanon.

And btw, don’t think I can’t see how you’re trying to change the subject. The point of my examples is to show that countries can pass through periods of great conflict and chaos and still reach a point from which we can say that it’s good they fought through the troubles and endured, and that the troubles didn’t mean things were hopeless and could never improve (which is the tone of most of the defeatist discourse now coming from the Democrats, even leading ones like Pelosi [I appreciate her frankness, though, as she lets the American people know where her party truly stands--i.e., on the side of surrender and retreat]).

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