Friday, August 26, 2005

Iraq - 8 months and no Constitution?

Reviewing memeorandum this morning, I see the usual breast beating, finger pointing, tongue wagging, self flagellation, second thoughts, self doubts, veiled threats, second guessing, etc. etc. concerning the failure of the Iraqis to agree on a new constitution in the eight months since their election in January. Eight months and no constitution? Outrageous!!!!

The United States adopted the Articles of Confederation, which served us fairly well through the Revolutionary War but were woefully inadequate for actually running a country, on November 15, 1777, after 16 months of debate. Recognizing the failure of the Articles to allow the actual governing of a country, work began, after a fashion, on a Constitution in September, 1786 and the document was signed for submission to the Congress and the states on September 17, 1787. And this with a model to use whose shortcomings were already well known. So, one could argue that our Constitution, required some 135 months to complete. Since the U. S. Constitution is the oldest single document prescribing the governance of a country still in existence today, we worked slowly but we did it right. But that is still 135 months, not 8.

Canada's "constitution", if we can call it that, is not a single document, like ours, but a series of acts of the British and Canadian Parliaments, as well as legislation, judicial decisions and agreements between the federal and provincial governments. It also includes a bunch of "unwritten" procedures, such as the resignation of the Prime Minister if he lose a confidence vote in Parliament. Imagine what David Boies could have done in court in 2000 to an unwritten procedure for the end of one government and the beginning of another. Anyway, the first Canadian Constitution went into effect in 1867, but was written by the British. In fact, the Canadian people did not gain control of their own constitution until 1982 when Great Britain ceded control to Canada. So, one could argue that the Canadian Constitution which is in effect today required 115 years to establish. That's a whole hell of a lot longer than 8 months.

Great Britain also lacks a single document which could be called a constitution. Britain relies even more on unwritten aspects of governance than do the Canadians. British law goes all the way back to the Magna Carta of 1215. One could say that the British have been negotiating a constitution for 790 years, or one could say that after 790 years the British still don't have a constitution. 790 years is a lot longer than 8 months.

The history of the constitution of France is more complicated but doesn't consume as many years. Lafayette wrote a kind of Bill of Rights or maybe a Declaration of Independence, called the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which was adopted in 1789. Lafayette wrote it with the help of his friend, Thomas Jefferson. So, if there were any debate or negotiations at all, they would have occurred between the good Marquis and Jefferson. Certainly, these negotiations and debates, if there even were any, did not include bombings and mass murder perpetrated by Jefferson's and Lafayette's followers on one another. Then, try to follow this:
The Constitution of 1789
The Constitution of 1791
The Constitution of 1793
The Constitution of 1795
The Constitution of the Year VIII
The Constitution of the Year X
The Constitution of the Year XII
The Charter of 1814
The Charter of 1830
The constitution of the Second French Republic 1848
The constitution of the French Second Empire 1852
The constitution of the French Third Republic 1875
Vichy France - no constitution at all
The constitutional law of 1945
The constitution of the French Fourth Republic 1946
The constitution of the French Fifth Republic 1958
Whew! If the Iraqis thought they had all this to look forward to, I'd opt for an out-and-out, to-the-death civil war. Just settle the issue once and for all and avoid 200 plus years of failure.

My point here is that all of the aforementioned squawking about Iraq's failure to agree on a Xeroxed copy of The Constitution of the United States of America in eight months while struggling to maintain life and limb in the face of open warfare in the streets, cities and towns as well as under indirect attack from at least 3 neighboring states (Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, if you don't read the news much), is actually sort of understandable, given the above short histories. Add into this mix, or mess, if you prefer, the fact that there are three distinct groups of people doing the negotiating who basically have hated each others' guts and been actively engaged in killing one another for centuries, and you can see the problems. Try to imagine the negotiations and debate in America if the Georgians, Carolinians, Marylanders and Virginians were engaged in the mass murder of the New Englanders who wanted to see all the Pennsylvanians, Rhode Islanders and Mainers dead dead dead. And all this while the Mexicans, the Canadians and the, er, Hawaiians were supplying arms, bombs, fighters and encouragement to one group or another. Do you think we would have had a constitution hammered out of a pre-existing document and with 10 years experience under our belts in 8 months? And the Iraqis have no pre-existing document to guide them, except ours, which is hand-written in English, a language most of them can't read or understand.

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