April 15, 2003

The Next Battle for Iraq

The first of many promised meetings to discuss the future polity of Iraq was held today in Ur. The U.S. government has not yet released a list of Iraqi participants, though we know that it was represented by Zalmay Khalilzad, Ryan Crocker, and Jay Garner. Surprisingly, Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi only sent a representative.

One hopes, of course, that this meeting is part of a process that leads to a stable and, ultimately, democratic government for Iraq, but the odds favor a less happy outcome. The people of the region have virtually no experience with the mechanics of democracy. (Granted, the Kurds of northern Iraq have shown some ability to put aside narrow group interests for the greater good, and this may be cause for some slight optimism.) Shiite Muslims, the oppressed majority under Saddam Hussein, are already expressing concern that their interests will be slighted. There is every reason to expect that we are watching the beginning of a political battle among interest groups, with no one representing the interests of Iraq as a whole, which is, after all, an artificial state assembled nearly a century ago by the British. (Iraq’s raison d’être is more geopolitical than it is national.)

It is not often that successful governments are created from scratch. Of those that have been, most seem to have been the product of one man. (The governments of Sparta, Athens—perhaps—and, in modern times, the postwar Japanese constitution imposed by MacArthur come to mind.) Of the governments formed through any sort of group process, our own federal government is the most notable exemplar; perhaps the revolutionaries of France achieved the most glorious failure. Development of the U.S. Constitution was, despite the representation of very diverse interests, a remarkably philosophical exercise. Although it was not a work of scholars, the Founding Fathers knew political theory. How many political scientists and philosophers—American neoconservatives, however intellectual, do not count—do we expect will take part in the discussion in Iraq? Although I hope I am wrong, I expect the result in Iraq will be a product of political hardball, raw numbers, and who can mount the most intimidating demonstrations. It will take a good deal imagination on our part to achieve any other result. World opinion is unlikely to be favorably disposed to any constitution the U.S. would impose, however enlightened, though I do wonder whether we don’t need a General MacArthur just now.

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