Excellent pieces of the proposed Iraqi constitution todaya column by David Brooks in the New York Times, and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Brooks points to the favorable opinions of Clinton administration Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who has worked hard for freedom for the Kurds for many years, and former CIA agent and American Enterprise Institute scholar Reuel Marc Gerecht, who knows Iraq well. Many in mainstream media profess to be fearful that the constitution will lead to theocracy in Iraq. Galbraith, who has been scathingly critical of the Bush administration on many counts, and Gerecht, who has been critical on occasion also, disagree.
They make the point that Iraqis are not necessarily going to make the same constitutional and policy choices that Americans would. This is of course true of other democracies. Britain has an established Church of England, and the prime minister effectively (and the Queen formally) chooses the Archbishop of Canterbury. Canada provides public funding for Catholic and other religious schools. France bans girls from wearing headscarves in schools. Germany prohibits the publication of Nazi materials. We don't do any of these things, and most Americans wouldn't want to. But who would argue that Britain, Canada, France, and Germany are not acceptable representative democracies with acceptable levels of human rights? They just have different histories and different traditions, and have made different choices.
Some have argued that Iraq is a poor testing ground for democracy in the Middle East because it has multiple sects and ethnic groupsthe Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. But I think the multi-sect, multi-ethnic character of Iraq is actually helpful in forging an acceptable democracy. It forces constitution-makers to confront squarely the age-old dilemma of representative government, how to reconcile majority rule with minority rights. In a mono-ethnic, mono-sect state, or one in which one group is the overwhelming majority (Shiite Iran, Sunni Egypt), that issue doesn't necessarily present itself, and you risk getting the tyranny of the majority that our own Founding Fathers strove to prevent.