Iraq Sovereignty and the Rule of Law; Transfer of Power on June 30 Still Important Next Step

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Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Thanks to the spike in insurgent violence in Iraq, beginning with the grisly scene of mutilated American bodies in Fallujah and continuing through a violent weekend, the question of whether the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi authority should go forward is now on the table. Is it, perhaps, too soon? Doesn't handing over sovereignty in a deteriorating security environment pose additional risks, including, perhaps, an emerging full-scale civil war?

With all due respect to those raising it, let us not overstate the importance of the sovereignty transfer in the scheme of things. This transfer is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is, at it has always been, a stable, peaceful, liberal and democratic Iraq, or as close to such an Iraq as we can come sparing no effort. The transfer of sovereignty does not change that end, in the sense of creating conditions in which we might reasonably abandon it or substitute for it something unstable, violent, illiberal and undemocratic in the name of respecting "sovereignty." We have to remain committed to the task of political reconstruction that we set for ourselves at the outset, regardless of where formal sovereignty lies.

"Sovereignty" is a term with multiple levels of meaning, and we would be better off understanding and, to be blunt, taking advantage of the different senses in which the term is used rather than glossing over the differences and thereby becoming confused ourselves.

In the classical sense, a state is sovereign if it has clearly demarcated borders within which the political authority enjoys a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. This is a good and useful starting point, but matters quickly become more complex.

For example, the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, as my friend Lee Harris likes to point out (in, among other writings, his brilliant new book, "Civilization and Its Enemies"), needs to come quite close to a monopoly on the use of force as such. A sovereign state can tolerate a certain amount of violent crime, but if it fails to deliver the tranquillitatis ordinis, or civil peace of everyday life, then its "sovereign" character is very much in question.

We spend a lot of time these days thinking about weak states and "failed" states, and rightly so. When there is no one authoritatively in charge, it is difficult to know whom to hold accountable. The prospect of violence extending beyond its borders with no "return address" is especially vexing. One could describe the war in Afghanistan as an exercise in holding a government, the Taliban, accountable for the activities of those operating on its territory, al Qaeda - whether or not the Taliban ever could have controlled al Qaeda. …