There may be less room between Michael and I on the specific matter of the Constitution than meets the eye. If all he is saying is that how the law is implemented is more important than what a constitution says, how can I argue with that? Our own experience with constitutional governance proves that point.
But I don’t think the bill of rights just got lost in the muddle. An American style bill of rights would have been unacceptable to the Iraqis. Period. An American style First Amendment, to take one stark example, would have been inconceivable for people who insisted on beginning their constitution, as the Iraqis did, by saying, “Islam is the official religion of the state and it is a fundamental source of legislation…. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.” (Iraq’s constitution laughably goes on, in the very next sentence, to say, “No law that contradicts the principles of democracy may be established.” Of course, if that were true, the previous sentences establishing Islam as the state religion, as uncontradictable, and as a fundamental source of legislation would have had to be removed.) It would have been much better not to have a constitution at all than one that says what Iraq’s says.
My principal beef with the Iraqi Constitution, though, is more cultural than legal. I don’t believe democracy is just a legal phenomenon. It is a way of looking at the world. It implies for example, equality for all, a minimum degree of individual and economic liberty, and a separation between the religious and the political spheres. For people for whom such concepts are novel, it would require a generational (probably multi-generational) transformation. Even a perfect constitution would not signal its achievement; but Iraq’s constitution, by contrast, signals that it is very far away indeed.
Constitutions, moreover, are not a PR device to display that a country is democratizing. They are a statement that a people recognizes itself as a single body politic, and reflects the understandings between that single national community and its central government.
To me, Iraq fails these tests in basic ways. Its constitution is simply an outward manifestation of that failure – a symptom, not the disease. I am not convinced that the Iraqis see themselves as a single country. Moreover, their Shiite leadership, while it is not monolithic, is heavily Islamist, starting with Maliki, who used to run the Jihad Office (in Syria) for the once-exiled party known as Dawa (that, sports fans, would be the “call to Allah”). (The other important party is called SCIRI — “The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.” And then, of course, there is Sadr’s crowd.) The most influential Shiite leader in Iraq is Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who I concede is preferable to Iranian mullahs, but for whom what we regard as democracy would be anathema.
These folks don’t want democracy — and they flocked to the polls because that was the shortest route to Shiite control of the regime, not because they are committed democrats. Popular elections do not equal democracy.
Finally, I don’t understand how those who support the democracy project can say that it would be wrong and a betrayal for us to topple the Maliki government and install something better, but it’s fine to defund it and let it die on the vine. Either one, mind you, is fine by me; I just don’t see why you should have to draw out painfully and try (unsuccessfully) to do quietly that which would better be done quickly and decisively. If you favor defunding Iraq’s central government, that has to be because it is an obstacle to victory. If it is an obstacle to victory, it needs to go … and the sooner the better.
And, sure, the Commanders’ Emergency Relief Program (CERP) is no doubt a better way to disperse American financial assistance than USAID. But the more important thing in Iraq is to get the end-game right and have everything else follow from that. What the American people expect for the lives lost and $400B expended is a place that is reasonably stable, friendly toward the country that freed them from Saddam’s tyranny, and inhospitable to jihadists. We are a long way from that, but that is what victory should look like. Democracy is a long-term aspiration; it is not a priority. We have hurt ourselves immensely by tip-toeing around a political experiment while there’s still a war to be won. And if Iran is the problem here, we are not helping ourselves win the war on terror by propping up Iran’s enablers in Iraq.