Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Ticking Timetable of Democracy

The Bush administration has been telling us recently that U.S. troops will start to come home from Iraq in significant numbers if Iraq passes its draft constitution. In fact, the White House is so desperate for that constitution to be approved that it has surrendered on an issue that was considered sacrosanct: the authority given to Islamic religious law in the constitution.

U.S. diplomats have conceded ground to Islamists on the role of religion in Iraq, negotiators said on Saturday as they raced to meet a 48-hour deadline to draft a constitution under intense U.S. pressure.

U.S. diplomats, who have insisted the constitution must enshrine ideals of equal rights and democracy, declined comment.

Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish negotiators all said there was accord on a bigger role for Islamic law than Iraq had before.

But a secular Kurdish politician said Kurds opposed making Islam "the", not "a", main source of law -- changing current wording -- and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.

"We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi'ites," he said. "It's shocking. It doesn't fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state ... I can't believe that's what the Americans really want or what the American people want."

The spectacle of the White House giving in on one of the central components of the democracy it claims to want for Iraqis -- a constitution that guarantees equal rights and individual freedom regardless of gender or ethnic origin -- points up the inherent contradiction in the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. The Bush administration insisted it was invading Iraq to overthrow a brutal dictator, liberate an oppressed people, and "give" them freedom and democracy -- and then found itself in the untenable position of dictating the terms of that democracy. First Iraqis were told they could not give a central role to Islam. Now, they are being told they can put anything in there they want about men having total control over women -- because Bush is absolutely desperate to get a constitution -- ANY constitution -- approved immediately so he can say to the American people, "Look! See? I was right to invade Iraq because they have a democracy now, and by the way, the troops can start to come home, too!"

The whole point here is that there was never any chance of democracy for Iraq given that it was Superpower America telling Iraqis how to create the institutions of their democracy. Telling is not suggesting. Dictating is not guiding or helping. Let's get real here. Putting a gun to someone's head, handing them a pen, and saying, "Here, write it this way" is not the way to create democracy, no matter how democratic the words sound.

And it seems the Bushies already know that. Despite the intense pressure they are putting on Iraqis to finish the damn draft constitution, it looks like they know the effort is doomed to failure; because the Army today announced plans to keep troops in Iraq at current levels -- about 138,000 -- for the next four years. And to that we can add the modifier, "At least."

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