Iraqis Should Draft Constitution Without US Interference
by Manuel L. Quezon III
Today Iraq wrestles with the dilemma of having to produce a constitution pleasing to the United States of America. Whatever — or whenever — the result, the constitution of Iraq will become the latest in a series of national constitutions that bear the imprint of America. The list of countries that have had a similar experience is long, and reflects a troubled catalog of nations: Cuba, Panama, the Philippines, and Japan. In one way or another, all these countries have had the formal expression of their sovereign will subjected to the will -or whims— of an alien power. What all these countries have in common, of course, is defeat at the hands of the United States (though one can quibble over Cuba, independent by force of American interference, and subjected to a protectorate status for decades; or even argue about the case of Panama, created because of American interests in a canal constructed in uncooperative Colombia). Having been defeated by the United States, these countries found themselves required to play by American rules.
The Philippines, in 1935, as one of the requirements for independence, submitted its constitution for approval by the president of the United States. The American government required certain provisions of the new constitution to conform to American political principles. In essence, the new constitution met those requirements, and was approved. However, one provision, governing the power of the president of the Philippines to impose martial law, was copied from American colonial laws that gave the power to an American governor-general subject to the supervision of the president of the United States. The new Philippine constitution granted the same power to a Filipino chief executive without providing for a counterpart authority who could act as a brake, or a check, on executive ambition. The result was that in the hands of Ferdinand Marcos, there was no obstacle to martial law being turned into a means to institute a dictatorship in 1972.
Japan is an altogether different case: The constitution for the defeated Japanese empire was written by Americans, and deliberately deprived the country of the sovereign right to wage war. The defeated Japanese, it seems, were quite willing to give up this right, and continue to believe that being a self-proclaimed pacifist state is a good thing. The only problem was that within a decade of Japan’s defeat, the United States found it necessary to begin rearming Japan, as a buffer to Communist expansion in Asia. The result was that Japan created “self-defense forces,” in essence a new Imperial Army, Navy, and Air Force, so that today Japan maintains self-defense forces supported by a military budget that makes the country the fifth-largest spender in the world. Naturally the technology of these “forces” is quite advanced, and much of it domestically-manufactured.
Still, in the case of Japan, ways have had to be found around a strict interpretation of the Japanese constitution, and the motive for such efforts was the strategic interests of the United States. While over the years, younger, post-war born Japanese have shown themselves open to a greater projection of Japanese influence and prestige abroad, one wonders how much less agonizing the debate would be, if American interests didn’t form such a significant part of the picture.
The problems at present in Iraq — the pressure to come up with a constitution despite grave disagreements among the parties drafting the document — should be a grave cause for concern. The American preoccupation with a delay in the drafting of a constitution resulting in a propaganda victory for terrorists, while legitimate, should not be the overriding concern. The main worry should be the validity of a document drafted under intense foreign pressure. What sort of long-term legitimacy will such a constitution possess? The truth is, none. It must be viewed, from the start, as a temporary document, which means the sides whose points of view aren’t adequately reflected in whatever draft is finally signed (and approved by Uncle Sam) will be working to replace it with a new constitution sooner, rather than later.
And yet to the minds of most people, and it would seem reasonable to think the Iraqis feel the same way — a constitution is more than a transitory organic law, it is an expression of national ideals, and the manifestation of a national consensus; it is not merely a point of pride, it is the means by which the long-term future of a nation can be said to be made possible.
It might be naïve to say, it would be better for the United States to leave, and then for the people of Iraq to write their own constitution. But it is realistic to expect that once America does leave, that is exactly what they will — and must— do.