Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Says Who?

The Iraqis will hold their referendum on their new draft constitution two days after Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holiday. The ex-British colonies from which America emerged did a far poorer job, since our constitutional convention was blatantly illegal. It had been called for the strictly limited purpose of amending the benighted Articles of Confederation, but the process was hijacked by those who are today our most celebrated founding fathers, with Madison acting as the lead writer. The ratification process was also profoundly flawed for a number of states and so on two different bases, the enactment of our constitution was improper, undemocratic, unauthorized, and the best we could do at the time.

Will we be bearing that in mind as we witness the unfolding of democracy in Iraq? I doubt it. Though already the Shiite representatives have shown real wisdom and restraint. Even in the midst of attacks targeting them, they have pulled back from a proposal that would have ensured ratification but at the cost of limiting the electoral clout of the Sunnis.

Meanwhile, in California, Governor Schwarzenegger struggles to enact, also by referendum, a law that would end the gerrymandering that has turned seats in the statehouse into sinecures. And in New Orleans Katrina has knocked over the rock covering up a rat's nest of corruption, including police officers with felony convictions, ex-cons who began plundering drugstores as soon as the security guards were gone.

So who exactly are Californians and Louisianans to judge Iraq?

Note I don't say "Who are we to judge?" Because someone has to judge, at least temporarily, now that we are embarked on nation building; someone has to (and here comes a beautiful phrase from a William Carlos Williams poem) drive the car. And while a dose of self-criticism is one thing, the paralyzing overdose that today's liberalism has taken is quite another.

It's a simple fact that most of us live in better-run states than California or Louisiana. And why? Well, it's because we have better ideas than Californians and Louisianans have. And yes, I do think the quality of local governments can undercut the general flavor of opinion coming from the people who have instituted such governments. To translate, blue states have crummier government than red states; more corruption, more crime, higher taxes. It's perfectly fair to include that in assessing blue and red opinions on the issues of the day.

Note also my reference to today's liberalism. Not every era's liberalism has been like this. The democratic party used to be in favor of "engagement", an active foreign policy. But the beating heart of today's democratic party is anti-war (at least).

I understand the superficially appealing argument in favor of neutrality. You see two boys fighting in the schoolyard. You tell them to break it up, or you go to the UN and petition that they break it up. You feel great. You feel, basically, like you're better than either of them.

But you carefully never check on or talk about, or talk honestly about, how the fight started. Did one boy hit the other, insult his mother, abuse his sister? Was there any history of unprovoked attacks, dating back to the U.S.S. Cole perhaps, or the first World Trade Center bombing or the Lebanon barracks massacre or beyond? Ask not!

It's almost a misguided religious impulse, a desire to enter heaven early, before your time, by pretending you're an angel, angelic, removed, and certainly superior. If you got your hands dirty, that would be too much like being alive.

But you do have to choose sides in wartime. Bush's early statement that you're with us or against us really means that if you're neutral, you're against us. Although that looks a little ugly, I agree. Switzerland wasn't able to maintain its neutrality in WWII, the Big One. It shipped escaped Jews back and, having no army, could conveniently say it had little choice.

The argument from the right goes that it's racist to assume Arabs do not share the universal human hunger for freedom. The argument from the left goes that it's ethnocentric and hegemonic to assert that hunger on behalf of Arabs.

I prefer the argument from the right. We really are not fighting for land or for political control, we're fighting for polling places. That's why we merely felt relieved when our original assault on Baghdad succeeded, while we felt truly thrilled when we saw those inky fingers held aloft. And we're doing all of this, at a great cost of blood and treasure, on behalf of distant, uneducated foreigners.

Who cannot find that noble?


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