Tag Archives: constitutionalism

Iraq, Palestine, and America’s fetishization of ‘constitutions’

I watched BBC World News as long as I could tonight. It was the dreadful Katty Kay on again. In the story on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, her guest was– L. Paul Bremer! Oh my goodness, the BBC are such lapdogs, these days. So Kay gave Bremer (and he took) every opportunity to whitewash the effects of the invasion and subsequent ten years of U.S. military occupation of Iraq… At the end, he said the thing he was “proudest of” regarding the years he spent as the U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, was that “Iraq now has the most liberal and progressive constitution of any country in the Arab world.”

This, on a day in which at least 65 Iraqis were killed in vile, sectarian bombings that demonstrated to everyone worldwide (if this still needed demonstrating to anyone?) that the country still has very deep, unresolved issues of internal political difference that plague the lives of all of its 33 million people.

So a “constitution”– that is, a piece of paper with words on that at one point in time  a certain number of “parliamentarians” who were elected in complex circumstances and under the jackboot of the occupying force signaled their support for, but that the ruling powers transgress on a daily basis, anyway– is supposed to somehow make all this terrible and continuing grief worth while?

Americans have such a strong capacity to fetishize constitutions! It is almost unbelievable. I mean, even though Bremer was talking to the representative of a (nominally) British news outlet, he somehow thought everyone around the world would join him in seeing that a “constitution” in Iraq could be counted as a signal achievement?

Britain, I note, has never had a constitution– and nor have a number of other countries. In some of them (e.g. Israel), internal conflict is deepseated but is managed in ways other than through recourse to a constitution. In others, including Britain, the internal conflict is not so deep; but when it occurs is generally fairly effectively managed through a plethora of other national institutions.

For Americans, I think, having a constitution is one of the only things, really, that draws and keeps this disparate group of settlers and immigrants all united. That probably accounts, at the domestic level, for the high regard in which the idea of a “constitution” is held. (Even if the constitution in question denied the vote, at the time of adoption, to women, indentured people, enslaved people, and native Americans… ) And then, Americans at the official level are so solipsistic that they think that whatever they value for themselves, must be ipso facto, valuable for everyone else, too!

But I bet that more than a few of them also see the whole idea of trying to foist  “constritutions” and “constitutionalism” off onto captive peoples as an alternative to actually resolving the deep issues of national sovereignty and self-determiation, as more than a little bit attractive. (Plus, how many American people’s careers have been made, or substantially  enhanced, by the wor they have done in “training” Iraqis in the finer points of constitution-writing?)

The other main example I’m thinking of in this regard is Palestine. Remember how, back in 1993-94, the PLO and the Israelis agreed that there would be created in the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank a “Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority” that would perform certain functions in some parts of the OPTs on an interim basis, pending the conclusion within the next five years of a final status peace agreement (between the PLO and Israel, I not– and NOT between the PISGA and Israel)?

Well, very soon indeed after that interim agreement was reached at Oslo, two things happened. One was that everyone started treated the PISGA– soon renamed the “PA”– as if it were a Palestinian government. The other was that many otherwise fine people in the Palestinian movement started getting very engaged and tied up in knots over fine points to do with the constitution of the PISGA— as if it were, indeed, a government!

Meantime, as we know, Israeli control over all the OPTs continued; additional settlers were systematically pumped into the OPTs; and the lives of the OPT Palestinians became more and more thoroughly curtailed an controlled by the Israeli occupying authorities.

What a dangerous distraction that whole exercise in “constitutionalism” turned out to be… In Palestine, as in Iraq.