Our naïve idea about Iraq

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 138 views 

Some Iraqis are now beginning to say the country should be divided into regions composed of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The Kurds have pretty much gone their own way, the Sunnis don’t like ISIS but don’t trust Shiite militias fighting them, and the Shiites running the government don’t want to cede power.

Such splits are something I previously suggested.

Then there is Donald Rumsfeld, one of the architects of our invasion of that benighted country, who has weighed in with a startling observation: a democratic, stable Iraq had no chance to begin with. It was “unrealistic,” he said, adding “I'm not one who thinks that our particular template of democracy is appropriate for other countries at every moment of their histories.”

It makes one want to use “Sherlock” and a certain word for “manure” in the same sentence.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the region would have told him and the rest of the Bush administration that any chance of us walking in and establishing a democratic nation had little chance of succeeding. But the knowledgeable people were ignored, with catastrophic results.

The idea of popular sovereignty was not an invention of the Founders. By the time Jefferson began writing the Declaration of Independence, the idea that the people were the ultimate source of legitimate government had undergone more than 2,000 years of evolution. We get the word democracy from the Greek words demos (people) and kratos (power) or literally “people power.” Though the Founders rejected the Athenian notion of direct democracy in favor of representative democracy, they still accepted this idea of people power (as long as there’s not too much of it).

The idea of natural law, the idea that human beings have certain rights discernible by reason, was enunciated by the Middle Age philosopher Aquinas and later picked up by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. Locke used natural law to argue that legitimate government protects the individual rights. Locke in turn heavily influenced the Founders in their writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Americans are beneficiaries of centuries of democratic thought and practice. The Iraqis are not. One could question if they are even a “people” in the sense of being an organic entity with unifying visions and values.

I recall early in the American occupation of Iraq an Iraqi who was interviewed saying, “We Iraqis don’t do democracy well. We need a strong leader to keep us together.”

Popular government does not mean turning over power to a strong man but distributing powers in such a way that everyone has some say in running the nation’s affair. And I emphasize the word “everyone.”

Democracy doesn’t mean simply voting or speaking freely or practicing a faith without fear. It means letting the other guy do the same, whether we like him or not. It took us centuries to learn this. It was naïve for us to think the Iraqis could learn the concept in a mere 10 years.