Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Iraqi Articles of Confederation

Matthew Yglesias notes that Bush compares Iraq's current constitutional predicament to the constitutional predicament of the newborn United States in the 1780's, apparently to reassure us that things will work out in the end: "As Americans watch the constitutional process unfold, as we watch people work to achieve compromise and unity, we've got to remember our own history. We had trouble at our own conventions writing a constitution."

But Matt goes on to make the excellent point that American constitutional history isn't all peaches and cream after 1789:
But let's take this analogy seriously. Iraq is maybe going through something like its Articles of Confederation stage -- you've got your Whiskey Rebellion, your disorder, your confusion, etc. But in a few years, they sort things out and the elite members of the nation's dominant ethno-sectarian group will work out an agreement establishing order throughout the country. The Sunnis, naturally, will be held as chattel slaves. Kurdish land and natural resources will be slowly expropriated via a series of genocidal military campaigns.

Some decades down the road, the conflicts papered-over in the initial constitutional compromise will break out into the open leading to a horribly destructive Civil War.

The Sunnis emerge, no longer enslaved, but systematically denied basic civil, social, and economic equality. A couple decades after that, the Kurdish Wars draw to an end, with the small bands of survivors herded into undesirable bits of waste land. A hundred years or so after the conclusion of the Civil War, they begin to grant equal rights to the Sunni population and get serious about trying to address conditions on the Kurdish reservations. We can expect, in other words, that Iraq will emerge as a liberal democracy sometime around the year 2170.
Reassured now?


Blogger Abiola said...

Matthew is being deeply silly here. For one thing, Sunnis have enjoyed the ascendancy in Iraq over Shiites since the 1500s or so, and this is the first time since what is today known as Iraq was lost from the Persian Empire that Shiites will have been on top. For another thing, Sunnis outnumber Shiites worldwide by a factor of 8:1 or so, and are in large part either wealthier or on a comparable level of wealth to Shiites, while Iraq is surreounded by several powerful Sunni neighbors who simply won't stand for Shiite heavyhandedness so close by, not least for the ideas it might give their own restive Shiite populations. Finally, I'm not aware of black Americans ever initiating a concerted campaign of indicriminate terror against whites in the name of a totalizing religious ideology.

Matthew Yglesias is either being facetious or he's allowing his fingers to run free along his keyboard unconstrained by burdensome things like a knowledge of the history of the region he's writing about, or (most likely) it's a combination of both aforementioned factors at work. I get that he's trying to lampoon Bush's analogy, but as far as I'm concerned the joke falls flat for being so detached from the realities of the Middle East's history and present.

8/24/2005 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Yea, I'm pretty sure it was a joke.

Actually, if anything, I think the fact that the analogy doesn't work at all is a point in Matt's favor - because the whole point of the post was to say that it's silly to say, in effect, "everything will turn out okay in Iraq - see, it worked out for us Americans, didn't it?" both because it took America a long time to work things out, and because present-day Iraq and 1789 America are not really comparable at all.

8/25/2005 09:16:00 AM  
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