Who's the Boss?

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The Constitution of the United States (remember it?) says, in the Tenth Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." As I understand it, that means that the U.S. government can only do what the people authorize it to do and nothing else; the people, after all, ("We The People — ") are the authors of the Constitution. Simple enough, but what bothers me is how We The People can delegate a power we do not have. The government daily does things that we would be arrested for doing; but by what authority does it do these things, since We The People could not have delegated to government a power we lack?

Now something similar is going on in Iraq, or shortly will be. It is referred to as a "transfer of sovereignty." It is scheduled to take place on June 30. Sovereignty is a pretty serious thing. The law dictionary defines it as total, absolute power. Sovereignty means power "to do anything within a state, without accountability." In other words, the sovereign declares, "Do this (or don’t do that) because I say so, and don’t ask questions or disobey, under penalty of fine and/or imprisonment." In other words, government.

So the question again arises: can you transfer a power — sovereignty — you do not have? The event scheduled for June 30 will be, I gather, a transfer of sovereignty to whatever group is cobbled together to be an interim government of Iraq. It is evidently the U.S. that is going to do the transferring, meaning that it is the U.S. that has, for the moment, sovereignty in Iraq. How did that happen?

The apparent answer is that the U.S. gained sovereignty in Iraq by force. It simply took over the country and announced that it was the boss. Well, isn’t that the way it’s usually, or at least often, done? How did the U.S. gain sovereignty over the Confederacy?

Consider France. On July 10, 1940, the Vichy government of France was established by law. It was headed by Marchal Petain, a hero of WWI. Petain’s sovereignty was exercised in areas of France not under German occupation, but the Vichy government cooperated with German authority because to do otherwise, Petain reasoned, would result in further loss of French lives and property. After the war, Petain was sentenced to death, but the sentence was changed to imprisonment, in view of his past service to his country. But it was his government he served, not his "country," whether he got his orders in French or German.

Vidkun Quisling was not so lucky. After being established as head of the Norwegian government by Germany after that country conquered Norway, he was subsequently executed as a traitor. Indeed, his name has become synonymous with treason, although he was only doing the will of the sovereign, as were, I suppose, most Norwegians, if not so publicly.

So it’s rather confusing. Apparently there are some sovereigns that can, as the dictionary tells us, exercise power however they wish, with no accountability, who, nonetheless, are held accountable — even to the point of execution. Yes, it’s true that Quisling and Petain were puppets installed by a conquering nation; but what of the group to which the U.S. will "transfer sovereignty" on June 30? Will they be any more satisfactory to most Iraqis than Quisling or Petain were to the Norwegians or French? The Norwegians and French were at least homogenous groups; the Iraqis are a group of disparate, fighting clans forced together into a "nation" by outsiders. Whatever is acceptable to one Iraqi faction is likely to be invidious to another. None of them invited the U.S. into Iraq; none offered the U.S. sovereignty over themselves and their fellow Iraqis.

If you argue that Quisling and Petain were established in power by a victorious enemy, does that imply that the U.S. does not occupy that same role with respect to Iraq, or the government of Lincoln with respect to the Confederacy? We were told that U.S. forces would be greeted with rejoicing by the "liberated" Iraqis; judge for yourself whether that is happening there. From the frequency with which U.S. soldiers are being killed by Iraqis, one might reasonably conclude that they regard us as an enemy. But where is it written that the sovereign must be popular, or well liked? The principle requirement of sovereignty, it would seem, is the possession of enough power to maintain it.

Americans are often reassured that sovereignty resides with them, with the people. Perhaps some even believe that. The American government wishes to impose — or bestow — "democracy" on the people of Iraq, and among the characteristics of democracy is this concept of sovereignty of the people. That makes it peculiar that the U.S. government is going to "transfer" sovereignty to a picked group of Iraqis who will then wield that sovereignty — absolute, unqualified power — over the rest of the Iraqis, who, however, in a democracy, are, themselves, sovereign! We are all sovereign — oh, to be sure!! — but some of us are more sovereign than others.

Government is based upon lies, lots of them. The idea of popular sovereignty is one of the biggest. Those who rule, rule by force. If the governments of the most powerful countries favor them, they are "legitimate" sovereigns, and to be taken seriously. If they fall from favor, they are "despots" and "tyrants," and must be deposed, so that, by the use of force, a new "sovereign" ruler can be established who is congenial to the boys at the top. "Transfer of sovereignty" simply means the installation of a new, more compliant, puppet, nothing more. It is naïve to believe that in the new, "democratic" Iraq, the average Iraqi will have any more control over his life than he did before. Freedom is inimical to the very nature of government, even if it calls itself a democracy.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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