August 30, 2005
The triumph of the Iraqi ConstitutionBy James Lewis
Surprise! The Washington Post is "disappointed" by the Constitution just drafted by the elected Iraqi Constitutional Assembly. The Arab League is tisk—tisking, but all its members are despotic criminocracies, so that doesn't mean a lot. And our friends the Europeans are skeptical, fresh from their own triumphant experiment in constitutional lawmaking.
In fact, the Iraqi Constitution is a much more serious and democratic document than the EU Constitution, which was turned down with a massive sneer by the French voters just a few months ago. For one thing, it is clear and understandable to anybody with a high school education. It is about 25 pages long. The European Constitution was 400 pages, and its main author warned that it should not be send to the voters because they could not possibly understand it.
Fortunately, you don't have to listen to the obsessive naysayers carping about Iraq's steady progress to democracy. Just read the draft Constitution yourself. To me, it is just thrilling.
Listen to these words:
Now remember the echoes:
No, theirs is not the US Constitution — but the spirit of Jefferson, Madison, and Washington is alive throughout this remarkable document. The Iraqi draft Constitution does attempt to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and so on, just like the US Constitution did two hundred years ago. It does so in an Iraqi context, with due regard to Islam and the agonizing history of that country, but its ideas are steeped in the Enlightenment, the very same intellectual atmosphere in which the US Founders flourished. The opening words "We, the children of Mesopotamia..." calls to mind "We, the people of the United States..."
That is not a coincidence.
Mesopotamia — the land between the two great rivers, now called Iraq — was in fact the cradle of civilization, sixty centuries ago in the city state of Sumer. It produced the first written law code known to history, the Code of Hammurabi. The patriarch Abraham of the Bible was born in "Ur of the Chaldees" — in ancient Mesopotamia. And this land was, as the Constitution's first paragraph tells us, not just the scene of religious founders but also of early thinkers, philosophers and scientists, poets and writers, whose words are still read today. In this draft Constitution the Old World and the New World join hands.
What about all the alarming things we are supposed to believe about the new Constitution? Just take a look at it.
In the second paragraph:
Do we understand how revolutionary this is? It is utterly different from every regime in the Muslim world. Saddam's terror party held power by whipping up sectarian hatreds against the Shiites of Iran, the Kurds, the Turks, not to mention America and Israel. "Divide and conquer" is the standard procedure of every despotic government in the world, and it is openly practiced in most Arab countries and Iran. This document begins with a conscious appeal to the Enlightenment tradition of tolerance for all, reminds the Iraqi people of the pain and trauma caused by Saddam and the Baathists for thirty years, and moves on to the legitimacy of a popular election, the unity of the Iraqi people in spite of religious and regional differences, and a vision of a "new Iraq... Without sectarianism, racial strife, regionalism, discrimination or isolation."
What a difference an American intervention makes. Three years ago the sadistic torturers of Saddam were cutting off tongues, raping and stealing. Today, in spite of terrorist car bombs aimed to kill children getting candy from American soldiers, in spite of Western defeatist propaganda, the seeds of liberty are sprouting.
Look at how the new Iraq defines itself:
Even Ted Kennedy can't carp at that. But he will surely complain about Article 2:
Some readers may remember that the Church of England is still the "official religion" of Britain. And religion is a basic source of legislation in every country in the world.
The real question is, does this mean a religious tyranny, like Saudi Arabia's? The second half of Article 2 gives the answer:
Look to neighboring countries, and you cannot find religious freedom and toleration. Look next door to Iran, and you cannot find it. The new Iraq wants to make it happen.
Just to re—emphasize that point, Article 3 states:
What about the rights of women?
Article 150 states:
Again, there is no real parallel in the Muslim world.
This Constitution is full of checks and balances. It provides for an independent judiciary, a democratically elected Parliament which elects a President by two—thirds majority, and executive power to be distributed between Federal, Regional and Provincial governments. The proceeds of oil sales are to go to the various levels of government on the basis of population. There is much more.
Is it perfect? Silly question. Democratic governance is not the end of politics, it is just the beginning. Women, trade unions, private enterprise, regions, religious sects and others will have to compete for power, just as they do in any other country. But this document is head and shoulders beyond the EU draft Constitution, which has no balance of powers, no independent judiciary, and no elected Parliament that can actually exercise power. The EU Constitution was just a grant of unlimited powers for an imperial bureaucracy.
Will it work? We don't know. It gives the bloodied but proud peoples of Iraq the best chance they have ever had for sane and decent governance. Every person of good will must wish them well. It is an admirable accomplishment for its drafters, and yes, for the American people who made it possible. Our soldiers have not fought in vain. This draft Constitution is their victory parade, and ours.