Iraqi constitution (another point of view)

Sanford Levinson SLevinson at law.utexas.edu
Wed Aug 24 20:32:12 PDT 2005


August 25, 2005

Divided They Stand

By DAVID BROOKS <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/davidbrooks/index.html?inline=nyt-per> 

President Bush doesn't lack for critics when it comes to his Iraq policies, but the smartest and most devastating of these is Peter W. Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia.

Yesterday, after reading a morning's worth of gloomy press accounts about the proposed Iraqi constitution, I thought it might be interesting to hear what Galbraith himself had to say. I finally tracked him down in Baghdad (at God knows what hour there) and found that far from lambasting Bush, Galbraith was more complimentary about what the administration has just achieved than anybody else I spoke to all day. 

"The Bush administration finally did something right in brokering this constitution," Galbraith exclaimed, then added: "This is the only possible deal that can bring stability. ... I do believe it might save the country."

Galbraith's argument is that the constitution reflects the reality of the nation it is meant to serve. There is, he says, no meaningful Iraqi identity. In the north, you've got a pro-Western Kurdish population. In the south, you've got a Shiite majority that wants a "pale version of an Iranian state." And in the center you've got a Sunni population that is nervous about being trapped in a system in which it would be overrun.

In the last election each group expressed its authentic identity, the Kurds by voting for autonomy-minded leaders, the Shiites for clerical parties and the Sunnis by not voting. 

This constitution gives each group what it wants. It will create a very loose federation in which only things like fiscal and foreign policy are controlled in the center (even tax policy is decentralized). Oil revenues are supposed to be distributed on a per capita basis, and no group will feel inordinately oppressed by the others.

The Kurds and Shiites understand what a good deal this is. The Sunni leaders selected to attend the convention are howling because they are former Baathists who dream of a return to centralized power. But ordinary Sunnis, Galbraith says, will come to realize this deal protects them, too.

Galbraith says he is frustrated with all the American critics who argue that the constitution divides the country. The country is already divided, he says, and drawing a constitution that artificially binds three divergent societies together would create only friction, violence and civil war. "It's not a problem if a country breaks up, only if it breaks up violently," Galbraith says. "Iraq wasn't created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill."

One of my other calls yesterday went to another smart Iraq analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly of the C.I.A. and now at the American Enterprise Institute. Gerecht's conclusions are often miles apart from Galbraith's, but they have one trait in common. Both of them begin their analysis by taking a hard look at the reality of Iraqi society. Neither tries to imagine what sort of constitution might be pretty to our eyes or might be good in some abstract sense. They try to envision which system comports with reality. 

Gerecht is also upbeat about this constitution. It's crazy, he says, to think that you could have an Iraqi constitution in which clerical authorities are not assigned a significant role. Voters supported clerical parties because they are, right now, the natural leaders of society and serve important social functions.

But this doesn't mean we have to start screaming about a 13th-century theocratic state. Understanding the clerics, Gerecht has argued, means understanding two things. First, the Shiite clerical establishment has made a substantial intellectual leap. It now firmly believes in one person one vote, and rejects the Iranian model. On the other hand, these folks don't think like us. 

What's important, Gerecht has emphasized, is the democratic process: setting up a system in which the different groups, secular and clerical, will have to bargain with one another, campaign and deal with the real-world consequences of their ideas. This is what's going to moderate them and lead to progress. This constitution does that. Shutting them out would lead to war.

The constitution also exposes the canard that America is some imperial power trying to impose its values on the world. There are many parts of this constitution any American would love. There are other parts that are strange to us. 

But when you get Galbraith and Gerecht in the same mood, you know something important has happened. The U.S. has orchestrated a document that is organically Iraqi.

It's their country, after all. 

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