Iraqi Constitutionalism

An essay I co-authored with Williamson Evers of the Hoover Institution on the Iraqi constitutional process should be up later today at National Review Online. I hope to have it published later in one of the Baghdad papers.

Addendum: It’s up.

6 Responses to “Iraqi Constitutionalism”

  1. The US constitution is supposed to be quite good and there are supposed to be all sorts of checks and balances and balance of power arrangements. Yet this hasn’t prevented:

    the creation of numerous unconstitutional institutions that are not in pursuit of justice properly understood;

    not insignificant amounts of intervention in the property rights and economic affairs of individuals that affects prosperity;

    the clamouring for and granting of various group rights.

    Isn’t the opening to your article a little optimistic?

  2. Tom G. Palmer

    And isn’t the U.S. a freer country than most, and certainly than those that have no balances and no checks on power? That strikes me as a useful baseline. I am confident that LB would not want to face an executive power without any recourse to an independent judiciary, for example. The fact that president Bush cannot merely fire judges who don’t rule as he prefers is something that allows me to sleep a little more soundly.

  3. Your confidence in my not wanting to face an executive power without any recourse to an independent judiciary is superlatively well-placed, and I wouldn’t be thinking right now “true, but so what” if the article in question had opened more with comparatives and less with absolutes (as opposed to your response); but then again, under those circumstances, I suppose I wouldn’t have asked the question at all.

    But perhaps an Iraqi asked you something similar on your trip, Tom, citing some example of some event (or many of them) in the US that occurred in spite of constitutions and balances of power and checks and balances, etc. While the response might be less obvious than the question, this sometimes can be a useful baseline for an answer that doesn’t need to be constructed from one’s sleep.

  4. Tom G. Palmer

    LB and I evidently share a preference for comparisons and establishing useful baselines. I’ve had a bit of a difficulty, however, to understand the challenge he’s posed. It’s not that I’m irked or stubborn, but I honestly am not sure that I understand the point that LB is making. Is it that the opening paragraph is too binary (free society vs. dictatorship), and insufficiently comparative? If so, then the point is well taken and it would have been more accurate to write “freer” or “free and just, certainly when compared to what preceded it.” (At the same time, maintaining the vision of a free and just society is very important, even though one shouldn’t make the best imaginable the enemy of the improvement.)

    I don’t recall having been asked such questions by any Iraqis. I think that that’s because what they lived under was so horrifying — fear of the knock on the door, of gruesome torture and death, of the son who doesn’t come home from work — that they could hardly imagine that things could have been much worse. (Now they fear, from many of the very same people who subjected them to dictatorship under Saddam, car bombs, bomb-strapped suicide killers, beheadings, and the like. In both cases, it’s the same forces victimizing them. The invasion has caused those people — and the jihadis, who had previously been largely suppressed under Saddam — to take out their fury on the people whom they formerly ruled with such absolute power.)

    But back to the main issue: LB — have I understood your point?

  5. Yes, Tom, the point of my first post was to question whether the opening to your article (“Its leadership can create a just, free, and prosperous society on a constitutional foundation of individual rights and limited governmentÃ?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢?Ã?¬Ã?Â?Ã?¦.”) was a little optimistic, because even a country with a sound constitution founded on individual liberty like the US has failed to maintain a just, free, and prosperous society on an absolute basis (as the wording implies) rather than a relatively just, free and prosperous one compared to dictatorships, etc. I would also add that while the leadership could possibly decree a just, free and prosperous society into existence creating one is a different matter.

    My next point was really just a continuation of the first. If a solid constitutional basis was all you needed for a just, free and prosperous society, why does the Cato Institute exist? As for Iraqis, of course any kind of constitution based on limited government and individual rights is a far sight better than what they have experienced and has been very far off in the imagination. Whether their society could be a 4 out of 5 free, versus a 3 out of 5 free might seem like luxurious talk to them. Or perhaps they didn’t “cite some example of some event (or many of them) in the US that occurred in spite of constitutions and balances of power and checks and balances, etc.” because you were very clear from the start with them that they weren’t going to suddenly gain a rose garden in the near future. The trouble is the latter doesn’t seem to have crossed the minds of many that often in the National Review crowd you were writing for.

  6. Tom G. Palmer

    I’ll think about this. For the moment, I should point out that the piece was not originally written for the National Review audience. I hope that we will have a new version (after the recent events in Baghdad and the failure to meet the deadline set out in the Transitional Administrative Law) out this week. But it’s late and I’ve just finished up a comment on a paper by David Friedman (“Is Government Necessary?”) on the possibility of stateless provision and enforcement of law. So it’s off to bed.