Everyday, there are stories about problems the interim Iraq government is having in designing a one-size-fits-all constitution. When anyone complains that it’s taking longer than it should, the response is something along the lines of, “Yes, it’s taking time, but remember how long it took to write the US Constitution, which still got it wrong about women, blacks, etc.”
That’s true, but when our Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia in the mid-1780s to pound out this democracy, it had never been done before anywhere in the world — they couldn’t Google previous constitutional examples. They had no template to work from, so they were starting from scratch, and of course they got some stuff wrong.
On the other hand, Iraq has more than two centuries of democratic models to draw from — but if we must compare the two, let’s start at the beginning, with the Preamble.
Here’s the opening of the US Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
That’s pretty good writing, one helluva thesis statement. Now, here’s the Preamble to the Iraqi Constitution:
We the sons of Mesopotamia, land of the prophets, resting place of the holy imams, the leaders of civilization and the creators of the alphabet, the cradle of arithmetic: on our land, the first law put in place by mankind was written; in our nation, the most noble era of justice in the politics of nations was laid down; on our soil, the followers of the prophet and the saints prayed, the philosophers and the scientists theorized and the writers and poets created.
Who’s writing this stuff, Don King? When you’re writing a constitution, you don’t open with your resume, you open with your intentions. Otherwise, it sounds less like a constitution and more like those opening remarks from the head of a state delegation during the roll call vote at a politicial convention: “Missouri, the Show-Me State, home of the best team in baseball, where at least one future President was born, where people use both arithmetic and the alphabet…etc.”
This is not a good start.