American Democracy and Iraq: Penses Aprs la Guerre

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The war on Iraq, at least according to political declarations, is over.

On the other hand, if you take the politicians at their word, the conclusion of large-scale combat in Iraq is merely the end of one battle in the American war for “cosmic justice” and “victory over terrorism,” which war has no definable ending point.

At any rate, the federal government finds itself with an apparent problem. What is this problem? The people of Iraq do not appear to want to have their government selected in Washington, DC.

Although the Iraqis intend to pick a transitional government, the United States would prefer to appoint an “interim advisory council” to run Iraq.

Iraqis, being unaccustomed to American politics, appear to continue to think differently than the Bush administration. As the Washington Post reports,

“The U.S. cannot cancel a conference that is led by Iraqis,” said Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of exiles that had opposed former president Saddam Hussein’s government and now is seeking to shape the country’s new political system. “We believe it is very important for Iraqis to go on with this.”

Poor Mr. Qanbar’s statements bring to mind one of my favorite federal Supreme Court cases, Virginia v. West Virginia (1870). In that case, Virginia sued to recover territory taken (with the predictable blessings of the federal government) during the War for Southern Independence.

As Justice Miller writes,

The first step in this matter was taken by the organic convention of the State of Virginia, which in 1861 reorganized that State, and formed for it what was known as the Pierpont government — an organization which was recognized by the President and by Congress as the State of Virginia …

At this point, one might justifiably wonder: when did the government of the Commonwealth of Virginia in Richmond approve this reduction of its territory? Answer: it didn’t.

The Supreme Court simply pretends that the citizens who sided with the Lincoln administration’s war were an “organic convention of the State of Virginia,” and that the state therefore had really “approved” the creation of West Virginia.

Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. The case, however, is a cautionary tale to those Iraqis who would rather order their own affairs than have them ordered by crusading Republicans from Washington, DC.

There is a clear lesson for Iraqis to take from the failure of American democracy encapsulated by Virginia v. West Virginia: self-determination is a legal fiction to the federal government.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2003 David Dieteman

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