An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times gets it pretty close to exactly right.
If the nascent government is able to devise a constitution by mid-next month, then they’re probably missing the point. A constitution cannot be written in a few weeks by a handful of politicians at a conference table; creating a founding document requires the long ordeal of reaching political compromise and building trust. Given the intensity of conflict in Iraq, it is unlikely that broad political consensus can be achieved any time soon.
What Iraqi politicians need more than anything right now is to learn to trust each other. If the Sunnis remain convinced they’ll never get a decent shake under Shiite rule, why shouldn’t they fight? If the Kurds believe they’re better off without the rest of Iraq, why not let the country fall apart? If the Shiites think they will never be able to rule the country peacefully, why shouldn’t they do what they can to rule by other means?
At the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic, as there seem to be some movement by all three groups. The Iraqis are groping for trust in the fog of war, and it would be too easy to simply give up. Thier, director of Stanford’s Project on Failed States, advises Iraqis to take the six-month delay allowed to them under the Transitional Administrative Law, and that’s not a bad idea. I know some members of the committee and its subcommittees are grumbling that the timelines laid out in the TALâ€”Aug. 15 approval, Oct. 15 referendum and a Dec. 15 national electionâ€”are more in America’s interests than Iraq’s, so why not a delay?
If Iraq’s leaders end up with a constitution that looks good on paper but doesn’t reflect a real political agreement, they will have failed. Not only will the document be ineffective, but the Iraqi people will see the inability to reach a real compromise as a failure of the government as a whole. That way lies civil war.
People in the Iraqi government and the U.S. embassy have all told me that the constitution is key to ending the insurgency, although they seem to differ on the timeframe. But the majority of those fighting this insurgency, Ba’athists and former regime guys, have never shown a fondness for constitutionalism before. The Ba’athists have launched two coups since 1958, and might be planning a third, so simply having a new national charter is not going to get these guys to lay down their arms. The jihadis will never stop fighting because for them, the fight is the victory and martyrdom a bonus. What’s the alternative, though? The insurgency is not going to be defeated militarily because the very actions used to “kill bad guys,” as the military likes to say makes more “bad guys.” At the moment, the political process is all that’s left.