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Can Democracy in Iraq Survive Our Media?

As Iraq moves toward a referendum on its draft constitution on October 15, the debate rages on, with some elements of our liberal media doing their best to undermine the positive achievements of the Iraqi people.

A New York Newsday editorial claimed the conflict is worsening and the process is increasing the chances for civil war.  Time magazine said that “While the failure of the constitution in October would be an embarrassment for the United States’ efforts here, it would be a blessing for Iraqis. The Sunnis could point to a political victory and then prepare for elections that would see them increase their representation in a future parliament.” Senator Joe Biden called it “a formula for civil war.”

Frank Rich of the New York Times seems to compete with Maureen Dowd, also of the Times, to see who can be the most clever and contemptuous of President Bush and the entire handling of the war. Rich said in a column titled, “Someone Tell the President the War is Over,” that “The endgame for the American involvement in Iraq will be of a piece with the rest of this sorry history.” Rich has a lot of his “credibility” invested in the U.S. being finally forced to cut and run, with Iraq submerging into civil war. If America succeeds, he has egg on his face.

After much negotiating, the Iraqi draft constitution was finalized without the Sunnis’ consent. They largely chose to not participate in the January 30 elections, and as a result had less of a voice when it came to drafting the constitution. They also bear the burden of having had one of their own, Saddam Hussein, brutally run the country for nearly three decades before being toppled in 2003. And on top of that, there is little oil where they live, resulting in their being dependent on the new government for their financial well-being. Iraq sits on the third largest oil reserves of any country in the world.

The main area of conflict in the negotiations over the constitution has been federalism. Wrapped up in that word are such complex issues as the sharing of the nation’s oil wealth and regional autonomy within a national government.

But the debate in this country is more about the role of Islam. If, as the constitution calls for, Islam is the official state religion and is “a main source for legislation,” how troubling is that? Does it mean that this is going to be a pro-Iranian government? Are women’s rights going to be a casualty of this process? Many are pointing to the distinction that Islam is to be “a” main source of law, not “the” main source.

A fascinating debate has taken place on the right in columns [1] by Charles Krauthammer, who writes for the Washington Post and other papers, and Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who writes for National Review online. In a column [2], McCarthy acknowledges his great respect for Krauthammer but is much more concerned about the role Islam will play in the new government, based on the current draft of the constitution. 

Once the draft constitution was in place, Krauthammer viewed it as a document we can live with, and not as bad as it could have been. Other provisions would tend to mitigate the concerns of having created a Muslim theocracy, rather than a nascent democracy. The constitution states that “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam” but also says that: “No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy” and “No law can be passed that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.” These ambiguities and apparent contradictions will enable the new government to move toward a democratic system closer to a Western-style model. 

The Wall Street Journal offered up what it sarcastically called a “radical thought: How about letting Iraqis debate and vote on their new national charter before we Americans summarily denounce it as a failure.” The Journal argued that with its provisions to protect human rights, including free speech and the right to worship, it is “a great achievement.” They call this a moment “of remarkable promise. A constitution, written in a spirit of compromise rare in the Middle East, has now been adopted by a freely elected, multiethnic, multidenominational Muslim government. This government now intends to put the constitution to a vote and?what’s more amazing?abide by the result.”

A constitution is only as good as the intentions and actions of the leaders, legislators and judiciary that implement and interpret it. There is a democratic revolution occurring in the Middle East that was unimaginable just a few years ago. What it will look like 10 and 20 years from now will depend on how committed the people are to self-rule and to peaceful transfers of power. The U.S. continues to have a major role to play. But our ability to stay the course means that our leaders have to remain committed to democratic government and they have to be able to ignore the rantings and ravings of people like Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd.