lunes, agosto 29, 2005

"What makes a good constitution?" asked National Review's Rick Brookhiser the other day. "Standoffs and horsetrades, frozen in time."

The English-speaking world's most significant and enduring constitutional settlements -- Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights -- were the compromises of rival power blocs: King John vs. England's barons, federalists vs. anti-federalists.

Brookhiser didn't add that the least enduring are those drafted by an ideologically homogeneous ruling class: This year's much ballyhooed European Union constitution, for example, was dead on arrival. By contrast, the constitution being hammered out in Baghdad reflects political reality. What the naysayers cite as the main drawback of Iraq -- it's not a real country, just a phony-baloney jurisdiction cobbled together to suit the administrative convenience of the British Colonial Office, never gonna work, bound to fall apart -- is, in fact, its big advantage: If you want to start an experiment in Middle Eastern liberty, where better than a nation split three ways where no one group can easily dominate the other two? The new constitution provides something for everyone:

The Shia get an acknowledgment that Islam is "the official religion of the state," just as the Church of England is the official church of that state -- though, unlike the Anglican bishops, Iraq's imams won't get permanent seats in the national legislature.

The Kurds get a loose federal structure in which just about everything except national defense and foreign policy is reserved to regions and provinces. I said in the week after Baghdad fell that the Kurds would settle for being Quebec to Iraq's Canada, and so they have.

The Sunnis, who ran Iraq from their days as Britain's colonial managing class right up to the toppling of Saddam, don't like the federal structure, not least because it's the Kurds and Shia who have the bulk of the oil. So they've been wooed with an arrangement whereby the country's oil revenue will be divided at a national level on a per-capita basis.

If you'd been asked in 2003 to devise an ideal constitution for Iraq's very non-ideal circumstances, it would look something like this: a highly decentralized federation that accepts the reality that Iraq is a Muslim nation but reserves political power for elected legislators -- and divides the oil revenue fairly.

And if it doesn't work? Well, that's what the Sunnis are twitchy about. If Baathist dead-enders and imported Islamonuts from Saudi and Syria want to make Iraq ungovernable, the country will dissolve into a democratic Kurdistan, a democratic Shiastan, and a moribund Sunni squat in the middle. And, in the grander scheme of things, that wouldn't be so terrible either.

In Iraq right now the glass is around two-thirds full, and those two thirds will not be drained down to Sunni Triangle levels of despair. There are 1 million new cars on the road since 2003, a statistic that no doubt just lost us warhawks that Sierra Club endorsement but which doesn't sound like a nation mired in hopelessness. A new international airport has been opened in the north to cope with the Kurdish tourist and economic boom. Faruk Mustafa Rasool is building a 28-story five-star hotel with a revolving restaurant and a cable-car link to downtown Sulaimaniya.

To be sure, we shouldda done this, and we shouldda done that. Yet nonetheless Iraq advances day by day. The real quagmire is at home, where the kinkily gleeful relish of defeatism manifested by Cindy Sheehan, Joan Baez, Ted Kennedy et al. bears less and less relationship to anything happening over there. Iraq's future is a matter for the Iraqis now -- which, given the U.S. media, Democrat blowhards like Joe Biden and Republican squishes like Chuck Hagel, is just as well.