Monday, February 14, 2005

Free For All on Iraq

The only Iraq focused blog I can read is Juan Cole and I imagine most of you read it too. If not, he’s got the latest news on what’s what in Iraq, such as that the moderately hardline Islamic-Shiite party United Iraqi Alliance getting an absolute majority in the new Parliament (and enough hardline mini-parties such as followers of Muqtada Sadr to make that secure). Iraq has significant minorities, such as it’s oft-oppressed Kurds, the formerly ruling Sunni’s, and even some secular left. It’s quite possible we can expect religious and ethnic oppression against these groups and imposition of Shiite Islamic law over the entire country.

Such a thing is clearly distasteful to any enlightened Westerner, and causes all of us to be thankful for our Constitution that protects us from such abuse. “Haha,” you might say, if you were a former roommate of mine, “lets see how your ideals for purely majoritarian democracy play out in the religiously torn new Islamic democracy now!” (Yes there are limits on what they can do, for instance they need a one time supermajority vote of 2/3 to form a government, and the US still has a presence, but this parliamentary majority still has a great deal more power and options than any US political party ever has.)

Since I like falsifiable statements, I will admit that this is good situation to look at for deciding whether Constitutions are a Good Idea for You (™). My argument has always been, however, that limits on what a government can do impose more costs than just letting the people’s will act, not that majoritarianism is always costless. What options are there in comparison to letting a majority-Shiite government decide everything?

-Secular government: The Baathist revolution tried this, and it just became an excuse for the Sunni minority to oppress the rest.
-Strictly constitution enforced by a higher authority: And the Americans weren’t even appreciated by the minority they were supposedly protecting (ie, the Sunni’s and others).

So let’s say fine, we’re not talking about secularist government imposed by a powerful elite or outside power, but a new Constitution made now chosen by the democratic will of the Iraqi citizens, such as we might expect from the 2/3 vote that will be needed to make a new government. It’s still likely going to have Islamic law, just not purely Shiite, which in Iraq’s future (assuming it has a long future) will oppress minorities aplenty. Movements towards federalism are going to encourage Kurdish separation, help oppress Sunni’s (since the oil is generally located in Kurdish and Shiite lands), and encourage warlord-ism, as has plagued other post-revolutionary Arabic regimes. In contrast, the UIA seems to be at least somewhat aware of it’s responsibility, and will most likely work for stability when it has all the tools at its disposal – instead of having no need to moderate religious zealotry since they assume Constitutional limits will do that anyway.

It’s definitely a thorny area, but the absolute one-size-fits-all solutions of a Constitution I don’t think would do any better in this new regime than we can expect a majoritarian democracy to do. Any other creative governance ideas?


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