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King Me
 
Michael Ubaldi, October 29, 2003.
 

Stephen Green comments on the Wall Street Journal op-ed by Bernard Lewis and R. James Woolsey I read during lunch:

What might be the most intriguing aspect of reviving the 1925 constitution is that it already provides a head of state who could prove tolerable to Iraq's factious Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds:
Conveniently, the 1925 constitution provides that the people of Iraq are deemed to have "confided . . . a trust" to "King Faisal, son of Hussain, and to his heirs . . . ." If the allies who liberated Iraq recognized an heir of this Hashemite line as its constitutional monarch, and this monarch agreed to help bring about a modern democracy under the rule of law, such a structure could well be the framework for a much smoother transition to democracy than now seems at hand. The Sunni Hashemites, being able to claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed, have historically been respected by the Shiites, who constitute a majority of the people of Iraq, although the latter recognize a different branch of the family. It is the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, not the Hashemites, who have been the Shiites' persecutors.

If the idea of a Hashemite Restoration sounds familiar, it's because it was a popular one (on certain op-ed pages and in the blogosphere) in the spring and summer of last year. Originally, the talk was about Saudi Arabia, which was originally (and unusually decently) controlled by the Hashemites.

But something tells me Jordan's Hashemite King Adbullah wouldn't mind having nephews crowned in Riyadh and Baghdad.


The White House shouldn't touch this with furnace tongs, much as I highly respect Messrs. Woolsey and Lewis. It's an unnecessary step backwards and a public relations/diplomatic disaster. Debate on Iraqi governmental structure has until now been polar, centering on one question: Will the United States introduce democratic institutions or will it not, and instead make a beeline for the Atlantic coastline after leaving a pliant dictator? Because the compromise introduced here is not well known outside of the admittedly wonkish quarters Stephen has listed, announcing the installation of a Sunni monarch would definitely be received here and abroad as a turn towards the latter possibility.

One of the reasons why MacArthur's SCAP left at least a titular Imperial system in place was because it was familiar, having survived the militarists' seizure of power. Only a contemporary connection to what was, at its basic structure, a dictatorial establishment could justify leaving any trace. Hirohito renounced his omnipotence and executive authority; his duty was symbolic, to provide the Japanese with some semblance of continuity as they struggled with the private property and egalitarian political rights even the Meiji Restoration failed to produce. Few Iraqis would actually remember the Good Old Days before the mid-1950s; it's unlikely that they'd appreciate an imported king after being promised truly representative government.

The Weimar Republic certainly wasn't much of a model for postwar Germans. If the constitutional convention in Herrenchiemsee, Bavaria truly wanted a unifying figure in German history - from before the troubled federalism of the 19th and early 20th Centuries - they would have crowned a new Holy Roman Emperor. But the convention embraced modern liberty, and Germany is a robust democracy today because of that.

I detest the bigoted overtones in various predictions that assure Arab failure in governing themselves as Westerners have learned to; these statements are especially maddening when one considers the resounding successes of Germany and Japan, two countries with their own postwar naysayers. Kurds, Sunni and Shiite need to learn to live with one another for the rewards of coexistence themselves and won't be any better off with a crown; why else would the entire world expect America to overcome its ethnic divisions? And Iraqis are sure to find much stronger parallels and inspirations in the next few years by looking to kingless constitutions like our own - or at least states with superfluous royalty like the United Kingdom - than to rummage through an unstable jury-rig meant for the decades between the World Wars. Why not lift a few lines from Hammurabi's Code, for goodness' sake? It's an enduring item in the history books. The last thing democratic hopefuls in the Near East need is to see the implied inability of Iraq to live freely without a gigantic pair of historical training wheels.