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Jewish World Review March 15, 2004 / 22 Adar, 5764

Michael Barone

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Heartening progress in Iraq |
It helps sometimes to put things in historic and metric perspective. The Iraqi Governing Council adopted a constitution on March 8, 11 months after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The German Western Parliamentary Council adopted a constitution--in May 1949, 48 months after the fall of Adolf Hitler. George W. Bush's critics complain of his "rush to war" and unpreparedness for its aftermath, but the 11 months it took to get a constitution was less than the 14 months between his speech naming Iraq as part of the "axis of evil" and the beginning of military action in Iraq.

What is remarkable about our occupation of Iraq is not that it has gone badly but that it has gone so well. Last week, crude oil production was above target level, the central bank signed up for the payment system used by central banks internationally, and 140,000 Iraqi police and law enforcement officers were on duty. A new Iraqi currency is circulating, and schools are open. Wages are rising, interest rates are falling, businesses are opening and hiring. Millions of Iraqis are buying cellphones, TVs, and satellite dishes. Attacks on Americans have greatly diminished, and attacks on Iraqis are likely to turn them against terrorists rather than against us.

The interim constitution adopted March 8 is worth serious attention. It provides for an elected national assembly, a strong prime minister, a largely ceremonial three-member presidency, and an independent judiciary. It has a bill of rights, with freedoms of expression and religion. It promises full equality for women. It bridges one of the thornier issues by saying that Islam shall be "a source"--not the sole source--of law, and that no law can run contrary to democratic principles. It provides for a large measure of autonomy for the Kurds, who have already developed their own democratic institutions despite a history of feuding. Both Kurdish and Arabic will be official languages.

No constitution is self-executing. Benjamin Franklin, on being asked what America's Constitutional Convention had produced, famously said, "A republic . . . if you can keep it." What is encouraging here is the language used by Governing Council members. Sunnis and Kurds, Adnan Pachachi (said to be the State Department's man) and Ahmed Chalabi (said to be the Pentagon's man), they all get it--democracy, human rights, minority rights--to a degree not many expected a year ago.

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This may have something to do with the extraordinary worldwide spread of democracy in the past 25 years. When Gen. Lucius Clay was prodding the Germans to produce a constitution in 1949, there were precious few democracies operating throughout the world. Now there are dozens and dozens. Starting in the 1970s with Spain, where the king played a key role, and Portugal, then in Greece and Turkey, South Korea and Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia, in Latin America and eastern Europe and Russia, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes have been replaced by working democracies; not always perfect, in some cases backsliding, but democracies. The trend is positive, and examples are there to see.

Advancing democracy. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all made contributions to this. Now George W. Bush is working to advance democracy in the Middle East. Iranians have been demonstrating against the mullahs; Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah has been talking about reforms; Persian Gulf states are moving toward democracy; some brave Syrians even demonstrated in Damascus. The developments in Iraq cannot help but change the focus of Arabs and Iranians, who have long been encouraged by their tyrants to blame their plight on Israel and the United States. Now their attention is being redirected to the question of how to build a decent democratic society.

One more thing for the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council to consider: the creation of something like Alaska's Permanent Fund to flow some percentage of state oil revenues through to each citizen. Huge oil revenues have produced wasteful, tyrannical states. Flowing through some of the money to citizens would provide a safety net and encourage the growth of a vibrant and independent private sector. Democracy requires not only a good constitution but a self-reliant people jealous of their rights. An Iraqi Permanent Fund would be a step in that direction.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone