The Corner

Re: Rep. Pelosi & Amending the Iraqi Constitution

Andy and I are on different pages on this one.  We could have come into Iraq with a bill of rights–there was one prepared and cleared through the interagency process but such proclamations got lost in the muddle as Saddam fell.  (I still blame the lack of clarity to make the call as to where Phase III ended and Phase IV began as a major error; Rich Lowry did a piece on this a while ago).   We squandered the honeymoon.  The last thing we should do is pull a Bremer and just rewrite the Constitution now.  It’s just not possible.  Instead, our approach should be threefold:

First, legislation can determine constitutional implementation.  Take personal status:  When the constitution is unclear about whether Islamic or civil law or interpretations prevail, legislation can define default positions.  True, the Iraqi government is dominated by Islamists, but they’re not all on the same page which is why the Constitutional compromises are so vaguely worded to begin with.

Second, we should pressure to reform Iraq in favor of a constituency-based system.  Politicians become accountable when they must answer to constituents in districts rather than just party leaders. 

Lastly, congressionally allocated funds are not an entitlement for Nuri al-Maliki and his government.  Rather than dissolve the central government, we should defund it.  Let the ministries sink or swim.  We should not abandon Iraqis, though:  We should shift US reconstruction and aid money to local municipalities through a revived CERP program.  If USAID balks for the sake of a Washington turf battle, let them embed with military units to get out and about and help disburse the funds quickly, based on the desires of the elected municipal councils.  CERP worked; USAID’s Soviet style disbursement and centralized planning did not.  The militias are successful because they give money directly to people; we need to do the same.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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