Creating Iraq in Our Image

So here we are, a year since the start of the Second Gulf War, and Iraq at last has an interim constitution. I'm guessing most columnists will go with straight-up retrospectives this week, but it's this constitution -- and the requisite sense of accomplishment -- I'd like to discuss.

Now, in 1776, you may recall the United States declared independence from King George III, and in so doing named three "unalienable" rights: (1) Life; (2) Liberty; and (3) The Pursuit of Happiness. There's no capital "P" on "Pursuit" in the Declaration. I capitalize it anyway. Happiness isn't the unalienable right here; its Pursuit is. Our Founders wanted a government "to secure these rights." For Happiness to be guaranteed, someone has to guarantee it -- at which point it stops being unalienable.

This point contradicts what we're seeing -- under U.S. supervision, no less -- with the creation of Iraq's new government. Case in point: Article 14 of their new constitution, which says, "The individual has the right to security, education, health care, and social security." What this means is the government's going to hand out its version of Happiness -- health care, education, etc. -- like American high schools hand out condoms. It's also going to "strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities."

Well, I don't know about you, but from where I stand these "rights" sound a lot like entitlements. Is this supposed to be a constitution, or a stump speech for Dennis Kucinich?

I'm serious: On his campaign Web site, Kucinich mentions the "right of every American child to a high-quality free public education," as well as the right to water, the right to a job, the right to decent wages, and the right to a pension plan. Civil unions, too, are an "intrinsic right." And even D.C. has the "right" to statehood. His slogan might as well be: "Vote Kucinich. I'll buy you one of everything." The only thing missing here is a right to the kitchen sink -- and if you search around long enough, that's probably on his Web site, too.

Now, these are good things to have, mostly, but ask yourself: Are they rights? As P.J. O'Rourke once put it, "If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free." Indeed, whereas the Pursuit of Happiness is of a kind with the right to Property, supplying "free" education and health care means taking other people's property to pay for it. Kucinich envisions a number of "rights" for the have-nots, but to secure them he'd strip the haves of every right they... well, have.

And that's where it starts to gets scary.

We talk about the separation of church and state in America. Yet our Declaration says men get their rights from "their Creator." Does this mean men who believe in God are the only ones with rights? Of course not. It means unalienable rights are unalienable because men are born with them. And it means a government's job is to secure these rights -- not to distribute them.

As genuine as its intentions may be, Iraq's constitution, like Kucinich's platform, promises rights that can only be granted by other human beings -- or specifically, by a government. This gives rise to a God-State (which need not be theocratic, per se). Why is that a problem? Because what rights a God-State gives, it can also take away.

But don't take my word for it. Just check out the dubious systems of social justice favored by tyrants like Saddam.

So now we've come to a point where we're asking, was this regime change worth our while? On March 17, 2003, Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to leave Iraq, saying there was "no doubt" the dictator continued to "possess and conceal" weapons of mass destruction. We now know Saddam did not have such weapons. David Kay confirms our intelligence -- like that of the U.N. and just about every other government -- was "almost all wrong." Somehow, Janeane Garofalo's the only one who got this right. So go figure.

But anyway, in defense of the war on Meet the Press in February, Bush said, "I'm not gonna leave [Saddam] in power and trust a madman." That Saddam wasn't fit for office seems to be a prevailing justification now. But while there's no doubt the Butcher of Baghdad was just that -- a butcher -- it's also true Saddam's fate was supposedly in his own hands. "If Saddam won't disarm," Bush said before the war, "we will lead a coalition to disarm him." What if he had proven his disarmament, then? In that case, as author Sheldon Richman puts it, "Bush's position implies that Saddam would have remained in power."

"But if Bush was prepared to leave him in power," Richman asks, "why does he now list Saddam's brutality against the Iraqi people as grounds for war?"

Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.

Oh, but still -- some say -- the Middle East needs to be democratized. We will never have peace until this occurs. That's a tough nut to crack, for many Americans, because we were born into a democratic system, and because we'd feel guilty if we didn't share its freedoms with the rest of the world. As a former war hawk myself, I understand the mindset, and I believe many of their hearts are in the right place. But the world needs liberty, not democracy. And it's not the same thing.

So Iraqis can elect their own leaders now. So what? It's a step forward, that's for sure. But we can elect our own leaders, too. What's it matter if Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same? All we're picking is names and faces. The establishment wins either way.

Iraq's constitution, with its promise of health care and social security, grants rights contingent upon the existence of Big Gov't. To control this government, Iraq's much-discussed factions will remain at war. Like a timeshared condo, the country will rotate agendas, and someone, somewhere, will always be disaffected (Happiness for some, its Pursuit for others). With or without Saddam, all of Iraq must still be subjected to the whims of special interests.

Sound like someplace you know? Like America, maybe?

Well, make no mistake: Iraq's constitution wears the wounds of America's so-called "culture war," and resembles the creeping federalism against which our freedoms now fight.

For example, Article 12 states, "Discrimination against an Iraqi citizen on the basis of his gender, nationality, religion, or origin is prohibited." This reads like an application to work at Wal-Mart. Then there's Article 15(b), which says police "may not violate the sanctity of private residences," then gives judges the authority to allow it. And in much the same spirit, Article 16(b) assures us, "No one shall be deprived of his property except by eminent domain," thus proving once and for all that the common good -- i.e., what's good for the God-State -- trumps individual rights even after Saddam.

Article 17 is the worst one of all: "It shall not be permitted to possess, bear, buy, or sell arms except on licensure issued in accordance with the law."

As that great humanitarian and central planner, Chairman Mao, once put it: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." The Founding Fathers understood that an armed society deters absolute power. Our Second Amendment was meant to prevent the rise of men like Mao and Saddam. Yet, in spite of this tradition, America oversees the birth of democracy in a country where empowerment will be handed out like rations by the government.

I've never been to Iraq. I don't know what it's like over there right now, nor how it compares to a year ago. The fact that Saddam's out of power is wonderful, in and of itself, but he's captured now, and his sons are dead, and the WMD's just aren't there. If we're going to stay in Iraq till it's democratized, we should take a step back -- take a break from re-creating Iraq in our image -- and realize, on the anniversary of Shock & Awe, that there's something we can learn from their constitution. For it doesn't mirror our own Constitution, but the God-State we've become since it was written.

And if that's the brand of democracy we're exporting, how's it reflect on Americans back home?

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Jonathan David Morris's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column on politics and personal freedoms.  His website is