Iraq's Constitutional Crisis

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The continued squabbling over Iraq's constitution again raises the question of whether "democracy," or even "liberal democracy," accurately describes America's goal there. If the will of the Iraqi people is to split this arbitrarily defined nation-state into three countries, by what principle does the U.S. oppose that outcome? Haven't we moved beyond a policy that elevates stability above democracy?

One possible answer is that, while an independent Iraqi Kurdistan might maintain something like a liberal democracy, the outlook for Sunniland and (especially) the Shiite Republic of Iraq is decidedly less favorable. Only by forcing these clashing groups to live together in one country can the U.S. guarantee a reasonably free and tolerant polity, which in turn will help spread the ideals of liberal democracy throughout the Middle East, thereby counteracting Islamic extremism and making terrorist attacks on Americans less likely. Hence our security depends on, among other things, the willingness of Shiite clerics to compromise their vision of Iraqi divorce law. Is that the idea?

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  1. Either way, it looks like the women of Iraq are screwed. Nothing says “freedom” like Sharia law and gender-based house arrest.

  2. It’s just like Red States and Blue States!

    Except everyone has a Kalashnikov.

  3. rant
    From this cynic’s perspective, this whole Constitution thing in Iraq is a joke. The Constitution is likely to be treated with just as much integrity as in Venezuela. What matters is that the society embrace the concept of Natural Rights enforced by the Rule of Law. No piece of paper is going to change that. Once we pull out (if ever, thanks GWB), the infighting will begin.
    /rant

  4. Maybe the phrase “civil war” will be easier to swallow than “border skirmishes”.

  5. You gotta hand it to Dubya. He’s certainly made the world safer for Islamic fundamentalists, except for that chunk of worthless land called Afghanistan.

  6. “Only by forcing these clashing groups to live together in one country can the U.S. guarantee a reasonably free and tolerant polity”

    What a joke. The US doesn’t have the troops to force these groups to live together. Does Mr. Sullum propose a draft or some other means to greatly increase the US troop presence?

  7. Let’s get to the really important issues of writing a Constitution:

    1) Don’t worry too much about what you put in there. If you don’t like it you can always come up with a creative interpretation later to do what you want anyway.

    2) Along those lines, let’s talk about oil: If you can’t agree on a way for assigning property rights or dividing revenues, just stipulate that oil and oil revenues can only be put toward “public use.” What does “public use” mean? Whatever the politicians want it to mean. (It might help to agree in advance on which politicians get to make that call, otherwise they might decide that buying weapons to kill rival claimants is “public use.”)

    3) I would encourage the Iraqis to enshrine in their Constitution the right to keep and bear arms, but I think it’s safe to assume that’s one right that the central government will be totally incapable of violating.

    4) Despite what I said in the first item, some pain in the ass might come along and say “Where in the Constitution does it say that the government can do this?” There are two ways around that. The first, and most obvious, is to make sure that loyalists of your political faction have the right to keep and bear arms. That will teach the guy to be a pain in the ass!

    But, if it should turn out that loyalists of his faction also exercise their right to keep and bear arms, it helps to have a clause saying “The Islamic Congress shall have the power to regulate inter-province commerce.” That takes care of everything!

    5) We Americans have found that actually voting for our leader is a bad idea. Instead, we use a rather complicated system that gives disproportionate power to heavily religious rural areas. Try it and see how that works before you do anything silly like “One Shia man/One Shia vote.”

    6) Finally, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to include a balanced budget amendment.

  8. Again, I put forward my half-serious proposal for assuring freedom and peace not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East:

    Provide one assault rifle with a few dozen rounds of ammunition to each and every veil-clad woman who is brave enough to come forward and ask for one. Insist that she burn her veil before handing over the weapon.

  9. Since the borders of Iraq were decided, rather arbitrarily, by the British, there is extra incentive for us not to repeat the same mistake. We can actually improve upon the mistakes of the past and possibly avoid some of the wrath of the varied peoples currently living in “Iraq”. I’m all for it, until I see an even better argument for forcing them to live together than the decent (but not great) one Jacob references.

  10. I would suggest recruiting several chapters of Dykes on Bikes to distribute the firearms.

  11. I’m with MP. Iraq’s constitution will be a joke, much like ours has become.

  12. On a more serious note, I wish more people at these idiotic “contitutional conventions” would go back and read their Locke. One point in particular stands out in my mind: Locke’s implicit preference for simple forms in government. He recognized that how a government is structured formally does not determine how it works–the content of the vessel is far more important than its shape. No matter how many checks and balances and electoral formulas and safeguards you put into a constitution, garbage in means garbage out.

    And if you make the document so complex that no one can read it (like the EU debacle), then you make it that much easier for tyranny. Simple forms! Simple procedures! Like maybe, erm, I dunno, that scrappy old parchment dating to the late 18th Century….

    The greatest ideas in history have been scribbled in margins or on cocktail napkins.

  13. “Hence our security depends on, among other things, the willingness of Shiite clerics to compromise their vision of Iraqi divorce law. Is that the idea?”

    I think that’s the idea. …any compromises on divorce law aren’t the only thing “our security depends on”, and Shiite clerics aren’t the only ones who need to compromise.

    Unless they’re offered something better than what they already have, nobody trades. From the perspective of Kurdistan, what’s better about compromise on oil revenue? From the Sunni perspective, what’s better about being a tiny part of a coalition with your traditional enemies? …With little or no oil revenue?

    …and yes, why should Shiite clerics compromise with anyone? In what way will they be better off for having compromised? …To get the Americans to leave? Is there any sustainable benefit beyond that? If Sistani’s or Sadr’s slates are defeated in some future election, will the Shiite clerics nod their heads and join the loyal opposition?

    Yes, it’s willingness to compromise. …and it’s not clear to me that the parties are willing to compromise into a coalition–long term. …and that’s because it isn’t clear–to me anyway–that a coalition offers the most important parties a better deal than they already have.

  14. The preliminary drafts of the Iraqi constitution that have been leaked honestly read like someone sat down with Bastiat’s essay “The State” and said, “OK, how can we violate every recommendation on constitution-drafting in this thing?”

    Read “The State” here: http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss5.html#Chapter 5

    Read a draft version of the Iraqi constitution here: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/BillofRights.pdf

  15. Hence our security depends on, among other things, the willingness of Shiite clerics to compromise their vision of Iraqi divorce law.

    To continue my rant…divorce law in a Constitution? What a disaster. JMoore nails it at 10:56 AM.

    And thanks thoreau for the reminder about the f*cked up state of this country’s Constitutional doctrine. sigh…

    There was an episode of West Wing with Christoper Lloyd playing Lawrence Lessig making the point about how the details of the Constitution didn’t matter. His priority was to work on instilling the ideas surrounding the Rule of Law. Some people may see a lot of bias in West Wing, but that show is definitely a thinking person’s show.

  16. US security doesn’t depend on a stable Iraq. US security depends on a way to get more energy when the oil runs out.

    If Iraq wants to split, let them split. Its their country, not the US’s. If they want to border skirmish, let ’em border skirmish. They can bleed themselves dry so far as I care, so long as they aren’t using my tax monies to do the violence.

  17. They can bleed themselves dry so far as I care, so long as they aren’t using my tax monies to do the violence.

    I agree, but after that WMD justification fell apart the excuse was “We’re going to give them freedom.” MY tax money has been used to ensure that the women of Iraq will now have LESS freedom than they did even under Saddam. If I were an Iraqi woman, now forced to wear the veil and stay home all the time after a lifetime of secular freedoms, I would raise my children to despise the country that did this to me.

  18. “But, if it should turn out that loyalists of his faction also exercise their right to keep and bear arms, it helps to have a clause saying ‘The Islamic Congress shall have the power to regulate inter-province commerce.’ That takes care of everything!”

    They’ve got that taken care of, thoreau, see the link I posted earlier at Art. 18, sec. 2:

    The state shall bear the responsibility for growth, developing production and services, building a solid infrastructure for the economy of the country, and providing services.

  19. Jennifer

    If I gave you a gun, would you love me?

    (I need to let this go…)

  20. JMoore–

    I’d need mroe than one gun to fight off an entire country full of people who’d be happy to throw acid in my face, or outright kill me, if I tried to get a job or talk to my male friends or leave the house for any other damned reason.

    But hey, let’s all harp on how Iraq is sooooo much fucking better now that we’ve invaded! Granted, the female half of the population is screwed, but that’s okay–human rights violations only matter if the violated parties are male, right? If it’s a woman being oppressed that’s just “culture.”

  21. It’s interesting that, on the domestic front, the accounting profession has finally recognized that a bloated corpus of byzantine rules (GAAP) breaks down. Now there is a move to establish principles-based accounting (like the Brits) as opposed to the incomprehensible rules which no one can follow consistently.

    Maybe we should send some accountants to advise the Iraqis. They know the horrors of too much detail.

  22. Jennifer, if you keep on acting so hysterical about the plight of Iraqi women you’ll never be admitted to Stevo Darkly’s camp for attractive conservative females.

  23. Well, Thoreau, since I’m left-wing anyway there’s not much chance of THAT.

  24. Yep, Jennifer. It’s just a different cultural paradigm.

    My half-serious point about arming the women of Iraq is really based on the belief that, so long as half the population is de facto second class, they’re ALL going to be screwed.

    Iraq could use a few radical “feminazis.” At least in the interim.

  25. Wait, you’re left-wing? If you’re left-wing then I’m a Randroid.

  26. It’s interesting that, on the domestic front, the accounting profession has finally recognized that a bloated corpus of byzantine rules (GAAP) breaks down.

    Really? This story ($) from The Economist seems to imply that Accrual Accounting is here for the long haul.

  27. If you’re left-wing then I’m a Randroid.

    I oppose the wars on: drugs, prostitution, homosexuality and any other victimless crimes; I think protecting people from EACH OTHER (as opposed to themselves) is a legitimate function of government; I agree with the necessity for worker-protection laws and some sort of social safety net (though I disagree with the exact way these are implemented now), and I don’t buy “federalism” as an excuse for letting states decide to put minority rights up to the vote.

    Yup, leftie.

  28. Nothing wrong with being a leftie, or a rightie, or a centerie.

    Of course, while all you side-ists are down on the floor hurling insults at each other, I will be up in the gallery hurling rotten cabbage at all of you.

  29. The biggest difference between this constitutional convention and ours?

    The people arguing over our constitution had recently spent nearly a decade as comrades in arms, fighting for their own, and each other’s, liberty. No matter how deep their disagreements or divergent their interests, they had that bond between them, and experience at muddling through together.

    By denying the Iraqi people a role in their own liberation, beyond the scripted statue-toppling and requests to please kiss Ahmed Chalabi’s ass, we have denied them the foundation they need for the transition to democracy.

  30. Whoops, almost forgot my most damningly leftist trait of all: while I don’t like paying taxes, I don’t believe that taxes are the single greatest threat our personal freedoms face. “Well, this candidate is going to weaken the Bill of Rights and intensify the War on Drugs, but he’s also offering to decrease my tax burden by ten percent so fuck yeah! I’m voting for him.”

  31. The people arguing over our constitution had recently spent nearly a decade as comrades in arms, fighting for their own, and each other’s, liberty. No matter how deep their disagreements or divergent their interests, they had that bond between them, and experience at muddling through together.

    True, but maybe the Iraqis’ shared hatred at the thought of women controlling their own destinies will be enough to bring them together. Kind of like the way, a few months ago, the Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians were able to set aside their animosity long enough to agree that they really, really hate gays.

  32. we have denied them the foundation they need for the transition to democracy

    Years of living under Saddam without a successful revolt appears to indicate that they denied themselves. This is not to justify US actions, but it is also not fair to blame the US for their apparent lack of civil foundation. It’s their own damn fault, which is one of the many reasons why we should not be there.

  33. Years of living under Saddam without a successful revolt appears to indicate that they denied themselves

    The Kurdish revolt might have been successful if we’d kept our word when we said we’d back them up. And how do you successfully revolt against a dictator who had the world’s most powerful country (US) supplying him with state-of-the-art weapons?

  34. Jennifer, if every leftie was more like you I’d be a proud leftie! Yes, I know, not good enough for the purists here, but your approach is a hell of a big step in the right direction.

  35. The Kurdish revolt might have been successful if we’d kept our word when we said we’d back them up. And how do you successfully revolt against a dictator who had the world’s most powerful country (US) supplying him with state-of-the-art weapons?

    The US has a lot to be culpable for, which is why I solidly support the LP isolationist doctrine. However, in the end, it is still the responsibility of the people in a particulr region to work out political processes amongst themselves. Putting blame on other parties by saying “we would’ve, if only they’d let us!” simply victimizes them and abdicates them of their fundamental responsibility to deal with the situation at their doorstep.

  36. Jennifer,

    The United States was a minor supplier of weapons to Iraq. The French and Russians were bigger suppliers.

    But that doesn’t change your point that the government had access to stockpiles of military hardware that the Kurdish and Shiite rebels were denied.

  37. MP, if I give serious weaponry to the guys who are beating you up each day and then criticize you for not stopping the beatings on your own, that would make me one of the more loathsome varieties of hypocrite.

  38. One other thing, Jennifer:

    What do you think of guns? To some people here that’s a big litmus test.

    Full disclosure: I signed up for a gun safety class. Did the classroom part last weekend, but due to schedule conflicts the first actual live-fire class that I can take is in October. I’m curious to learn, but I’m hardly a fanatic on it. Even if I wind up purchasing a firearm, I doubt it will ever be my #1 priority issue. Yeah, I know, 2nd amendment, right to self-defense, yadda yadda. Well, everybody has their priorities.

    Truthfully, my priorities aren’t so much ideological as intellectual: I get really worked up over anything that’s just plain flies in the face of common sense.

  39. And, before somebody asks, I think that disarming the law-abiding residents of DC flies in the face of common sense.

  40. Joe–

    Posted after I saw your comment. We DID give a lot of stuff to Iraq, mainly because we viewed them as a buffer against Iran. My last (mind-numbingly boring) job was at a defense industry consulting firm, where among other tasks I’d have to copyedit the “Force Structures” of each country–basically a laundry list of all the weapons, ammo and fighting vehicles a country is known to have, and where they’re from and how old they are and blah blah blah. I know that for Saddam’s Presidential Bodyguard, every single weapon down to their hand-pistols came from us. And a lot of stuff for the general military. And a lot of their ground vehicles, too (though I don’t remember whether or not we gave him planes–I don’t think so, but I can’t swear to that).

  41. Thoreau–

    I used to be 100% pro-gun-control; what made me start to seriously rethink that was the legal reaction to Columbine; even a gun-control advocate like me could see that designating schools as “Gun-free zones” was the same as posting a sign which said “FREE SHOOTING GALLERY FOR GUN-TOTING PSYCHOS. VICTIMS GUARANTEED NOT TO FIGHT BACK.”

    And then I read some anti-gun-control websites and saw that they made some good points (though in other ways they were quite moonbat insane). I don’t think individuals should be allowed to own things like nukes, of course, but regular guns and weapons? Oh yes. Especially considering how the government’s been going lately.

  42. Jennifer-

    First, it’s sad that you had to state that you oppose personal ownership of nukes. But, in some libertarian circles, that is (sadly) a debatable point. If somebody asked me where I would draw the line on what an individual can own, I’d say this: If the cops include a weapon in their arsenals to combat criminals, we should be able to legally purchase the same. Is it a purist libertarian stance? No. Is it a huge improvement on the status quo? Yes. Am I deliberately imitating Rumsfeld’s style of asking and answering his own questions? Well, you have to post with the style you have, not the style you’d like to have.

    Second, even when I considered myself a lefty and didn’t mind gun control, I used to be semi-serious in suggesting that we cut gun control in half: Women can carry whatever they want, while men need background checks and waiting periods and no more than 10 rounds per magazine, etc. Some of the people in my lab were aghast at what I thought was a perfectly reasonable response to violence against women. (Libertarian men would, of course, be aghast, but that was before I saw the light.)

  43. But, in some libertarian circles, that is (sadly) a debatable point.

    thoreau, don’t confuse a libertarian’s Original Meaning stance with their personal liberty viewpoints. One can be perfectly consistent in believing that owning nukes is a Constitutional Right while believing that WMDs should only be kept by the state.

  44. Thoreau, that “women can carry what they want” sounds good on paper, but my years working as a stripper meant that, while I did meet a lot of upstanding women who were just paying for college or supplementing the income of their day jobs, I also met a lot of the dregs of society, which resulted in my possibly being the only feminist misogynist in the world. Even today I get along far better with most men than with most women (in part because men are less likely to monopolize conversations by talking about their kids, or what Oprah said, or why THIS eyeshadow is so much better than THAT eyeshadow).

    Just last night, in fact, when I was home trying to work on a work-project, I heard two women shouting at each other in the street: “FUCK YOU, BITCH! YOU WANNA GO DOWN?? I’LL TAKE YOUR FUCKING ASS ON NOW!” Then three others joined in; apparently the argument had something to do with their kids. And the kids are watching as their respective Mommas threatened to “Take you DOWN, bitch! Fuck you!” et cetera.

    Trash is trash; the gender doesn’t matter.

  45. Violence against women is a tricky argument for gun control.

    …I saw a study a few years back looking at incidents in which men shot their wives with a handgun. The research showed that in some three out of four cases the wife didn’t know when to quit.

  46. Heh, heh…Jennifer, make it two misogynist feminists. I’ll carry that with you.

    Thoreau, I’m a leftist libertarian myself, and I like guns. In fact, communists taught me to shoot. You know, the coming revolution and all. That was in the Reagan years, and I’ve long since abandoned communism, but guns are cool.

  47. And how do you successfully revolt against a dictator who had the world’s most powerful country (US) supplying him with state-of-the-art weapons?

    Use your more skilled guys with state of the art weapons to back the insurgency which you armed with state of the art weapons against said dictator. This is part of the reason I voted against Bush Sr in 92.

    joe:
    The United States was a minor supplier of weapons to Iraq. The French and Russians were bigger suppliers.
    Jennifer:
    I know that for Saddam’s Presidential Bodyguard, every single weapon down to their hand-pistols came from us.
    Jennifer-
    I’m with joe on this. As a geek who used to read force structure tables, especially Iraq’s because they kept buying stuff, I find this incredible. I’d like to take this discussion off-thread with you.

  48. April–

    FUCK YOU, BITCH!! I’LL TAKE YOUR ASS DOWN RIGHT NOW!! YOU CAN BITE MY–oh, whoops. I meant thanks.

    Seriously, though, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only feminist misogynist out there. Yes, I know men have more testosterone which leads to greater violent blah blah blah, but if you take away the hardcore criminal element and just look at average, everyday men and women, I think women on average might be worse. More pettiness. More likely to view other members of their gender as “competition.” If this were the pre-feminist era where the only way you could succeed was through a man, that could maybe be understandable, but nowadays?

    I remember this one super-trashy bimbo I worked with in a dance club: she was proudly telling the story of how she got home from work a couple nights before and found her boyfriend in bed with a strange woman, and she beat HER up! So of course I said, “If you’re going to be mad at somebody, why not HIM? He knew he was cheating on you; the girl might have thought he was single.”

    And of course I got the “fuck you bitch” in response.

    The mace I carried when I danced was NOT because I was worried about my customers.

  49. Herman–

    Unfortunately I have no links for this; the force structures I had to do were from a company that charged thousands of dollars per volume, versus putting them online. But I distinctly remember that we furnished Saddam’s Presidential Guard, because I happened to do that FS while we were having some fresh trouble over there, and pointed it out to a colleague and said we’d have a much easier time if our own superior weaponry wasn’t being used against us.

    But if you want to drop me an email go ahead. I’m having a slow day at work anyway.

  50. I never understood why a woman demands gifts from a man in these times, either, or engagement rings that use up two months’ worth of his salary or so, etc. Dowries and bride prices are out, ladies.

    But, we’ve hijacked this thread. Back on topic, does anyone know what provisions there are in the unfolding constitution for women’s equality? I should be more aggressive about doing the homework myself, but it’s hard to find anything about specific.

  51. April–

    Just check out how sharia law treats women, and you’ll know.

  52. Just check out how sharia law treats women, and you’ll know.

    Well, there are no references to sharia law in the draft document referenced above, so don’t go getting your panties in a bunch just yet.

  53. True, MP. And yet the thing’s only half-written and many leaders seem to want a theocracy, so don’t go assuming your balls are out of the nutcracker just yet.

  54. “We DID give a lot of stuff to Iraq, mainly because we viewed them as a buffer against Iran.” – Jennifer

    A buffer? Yeah, right. We armed Iraqis for the sole purpose of continuing the slaughter. Someone in the federal government was quoted by AP as saying gleefuly, “The Saracen are eating themselves.” I think it was Rumsfeld. Anyone else remember that quote?

  55. Saw-whet–

    I was trying to be polite. Just goes to show why it’s not good to wear a false personality.

  56. saw-whet, that sounds like Secretary of Defense Urban II, actually.

    As for gun control, I like the idea of unlimited firearm purchases for every citizen, but an allowance of 25 bullets per year per person, or 15 for convicted felons(which will, of course, lose me the support of any hard line Libertarians) I predict that the end result will be a dramatic drop in the number of shooting deaths, and a dramatic rise in the number of pistol-whippings, which I think even the most strict of gun control activists can agree is by far the coolest looking form of personal assault.

  57. Mmmmmm, Pistol-Whip

  58. The government used neocon lies to foist this war on us as being necessary for our security, which it was not. I think that the important question now is: What likely result can possibly justify anymore American deaths?

    There isn’t one, so it’s past time for our government to bring the troops home. If they stay there, Iraq will be used for a base to launch attacks against Iran and Syria, the next targets on the neocon hit list.

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