Some people, including our president, seem to think that once free elections are held in Iraq, democracy will exist and everything will be just fine and dandy from there on out.
This rather widespread belief stems from a misunderstanding or ignorance of our own country and its history. It isn’t the elections that have given us the country we all cherish. It is the Constitution and the general consensus that everyone must obey it. That is the key difference between the United States and many other countries in the world.
As with religion, some Americans have paid lip service to the Constitution, professing more than practicing. There have certainly been differences in interpretation, sometimes powerful differences. Still, to a remarkable degree, the American people have maintained their devotion to the basic charter of government.
This allows our elections to be less than life-or-death matters. We are comfortable in the belief that no matter who is elected, that person will be bound by the chains of the Constitution and therefore unable to uproot our society. On the one occasion when that was not so, we had secession and war. The price of that war was so fearful that, since then, Americans have been careful to keep their differences within the bounds of debate.
This devotion to the Constitution is a gift of our British heritage. All the claptrap about diversity notwithstanding, the 13 Colonies were British colonies, inhabited in overwhelming majorities by British, Scot, Irish and Welsh people, with a smattering of Germans. For 169 years they thought of themselves as British subjects, loyal to the king and to the unwritten British Constitution. Such matters as common law, individual rights and limits on the government had evolved through the centuries in those magical isles separated from Europe by the sea.
Like everyone else’s, our culture and heritage are unique to us and the other offspring of Great Britain Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They cannot be transferred to other people with different cultures and heritages of their own least of all at the point of a gun. In our country, elections are just part of the mechanics of government. We are simply choosing people on a temporary basis to operate the machinery of government that they cannot change.
It is important for us to understand that while this is our strength, it is also fragile. We will be protected by the Constitution only so long as the overwhelming majority of Americans insist that it be obeyed, putting loyalty to that above loyalty to race, religion, political faction and even the national government. I fear that public education, caught up in the fad of diversity, is not properly teaching new generations to respect and revere our own heritage of liberty.
At any rate, setting up a mechanical election will not magically transform Iraqi society. Despite the nationalism of most Iraqis, there remain tribal, ethnic and religious divisions that will make a unified government that respects the rights of all difficult to achieve. There is no tradition of loyalty to a set of abstract principles. There is, however, a tradition of loyalty to a strong leader.
Our own country would probably have been stillborn but for the happenstance of a number of remarkable individual leaders. No such leaders are yet visible in Iraq, nor is it certain that the occupation authorities even desire such leaders to emerge.
The British tried earlier in the 20th century to turn Iraq into a British-style country with a constitutional monarchy, and they failed. If it is our hope to transform Iraq into an American-style country, I believe we will fail as well.
Iraq is an Arab country, and whatever government emerges must be consistent with the Arab heritage and traditions, or it will not last. As with the human body, transplants generate their own opposition.
© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.