Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Fatal Flaws in the U.S. Constitutional Project for Iraq

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Fatal Flaws in the U.S. Constitutional Project for Iraq

Article excerpt

One book critically assessing U.S. planning for post-invasion Iraq concludes that U.S. officials proceeded on the basis of uninformed and ideologically-slanted preconceptions, arrogantly presuming that Iraq could be treated as a blank slate upon which the United States could write its own vision of democracy. (1) The following assessment reinforces that conclusion, focusing on the preconception that Jeffersonian ideals of religious freedom could be readily exported to Iraq and, once implanted in the new constitution, serve as pillars of the new democratic order. As will be documented here, the attempts to export distinctive American constitutional priorities may be correlated with a disinclination to grapple with the realities of Iraqi history and politics. Such a misconceived constitutional project could not have succeeded--especially where the train of events set in motion by the U.S. invasion empowered ambitious Islamist movements and inflamed sectarian rivalries.

Counseling U.S. efforts to incorporate strong protections for religious freedom in the new Iraqi constitution was the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a governmental agency tasked with monitoring religious freedom around the globe and advising the executive and legislative branches. (2) Reflecting the high importance that the U.S. government attached to promoting religious freedom, the USCIRF proclaimed in its 2003 International Religious Freedom Report, published the year of the invasion of Iraq, that "[as a] core American value and a cornerstone of democracy, religious freedom is a central tenet of United States foreign policy. As President Bush has repeatedly affirmed, religious freedom is a key component of U.S. efforts to ensure security, protect stability, and promote liberty." (3)

Although many studies have been published detailing the heavy investment that U.S. officials made in trying to shape the post-invasion Iraqi constitution, they have tended to steer away from addressing a fundamental question: Whether at its core, the U.S. constitutional project was delusional and doomed to be an exercise in futility. Examining the attempts to engineer a secular post-Saddam order by recourse to constitutional provisions can shed light on this question. The record of interventions by the USCIRF is instructive in this regard. Where the Iraqi constitutional project was concerned, the USCIRF functioned as a high profile advocate and lobbyist for the U.S. policy of marginalizing Islam and prioritizing religious freedom. Although not playing any direct role in drafting the constitution, it reviewed every stage of the evolution of constitutional provisions that had implications for religious freedom. (4) When analyzed, the USCIRF's numerous attempts to obtain its favored constitutional formulations affecting religious freedom reveal a U.S. official mindset that vastly overestimated the capacity of constitutionalism to determine developments in Iraq.

OFFICIAL U.S. EFFORTS TO SHAPE THE IRAQI CONSTITUTION

Bush administration policy to protect religious freedom carried over to U.S. strategy in Iraq, where constitution drafting formed a central component of the strategy for curbing the scope of Islamic law. This was shown in an interview in February 2004, when President Bush explained that he was communicating to Iraqis the parameters of what would be permitted. When asked whether he would accept the outcome if Iraqis chose "an Islamic extremist regime," Bush answered: "They're not going to develop that. And the reason I can say that is because I'm very aware of this basic law they're writing. They're not going to develop that because right here in the Oval Office I sat down with [Iraqi Governing Council members] Mr. [Adnan] Pachachi and [Ahmad] Chalabi and [Abdelaziz] Al Hakim, people from different parts of the country that have made the firm commitment, that they want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.