Monday, August 29, 2005

When It Comes to Iraq's Constitution, the Bush Administration Is Perfectly Willing to Lower Its Standards

Juan Cole provides a reality check amidst all the back-slapping and champagne corks popping in the Bush administration, now that Shiite and Kurd delegates have pushed through their draft constitution despite Sunni objections.

Prof. Cole points out, first, that the Iraqi parliament did not vote to adopt the draft constitution, as they were supposed to do. Instead, they merely agreed to pass it on to the Iraqi people for a vote in the October 15 national referendum. In other words, parliament members ducked their responsibility to decide as a body whether this draft charter was fit for a national referendum; they just passed the buck to the voters.

Another inconvenient reality: Last June, when Sunni leaders agreed to participate in the constitutional drafting process, they did so because they were assured by Shiite and Kurdish leaders that said process would be based on consensus. Now, Sunnis are furious because that promise was broken. They see this draft as a vehicle for the "bloody partition" of Iraq: a development that would "serve American interests."

Which is exactly what I suggested in my comments on the draft constitution a week ago:

I'm sure the Bush administration is thrilled with the idea of an Iraqi political structure that "would fundamentally change Iraq, transforming the country into a loose federation, with a weak central administration..."; and if that loose federation is governed according to Islamic law, that is of lesser importance to the Bushies than the fact that there would be no single powerful central authority, as in Saddam Hussein's day. The breakup of Iraq is surely just what the White House wants.

But the Bush administration is so intent on turning a sow's ear into a silk purse that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq felt praising it as a good start wasn't enough:

Zalmay Khalilzad got carried away and called the Iraqi constitution the best in the Muslim world. Well, we could exclude Turkey's constitution because it is just a slightly reworked version of the Swiss, and so not very indigenous to the Muslim world. But what about, say, Indonesia? ... The latter also guarantees civil liberties and equality before the law, but the Indonesian government, unlike Khalilzad, resisted demands by adherents of political Islam that Islamic law be recognized in it. The new Iraqi constitution contains a provision that no legislation may be passed that contradicts Islamic law. That provision makes the Iraqi constitution read as self-contradictory (since it also celebrates human rights and democracy), and puts it in contrast with that of Indonesia, which contains no such provision. Since 1998 democracy has flourished in Indonesia.

So why must an indigenous achievement such as the 1998-2002 amendments to the Indonesian Constitution be devalued in favor of a deeply flawed and fatally self-contradictory constitution produced in Iraq under twin Iranian and American auspices? Does everything have to be about George Bush?

Why isn't the Indonesian constitution the most progressive in the Muslim world?

The answer to that question, of course, is contained in the immediately preceding sentence.

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