For Iraq – Hang the History Teachers

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

While
our all-seeing neoconservatives, liberal internationalists, and
realists argue about democratizing the Muslim world – their argument
is not if we should, only how – the real authors of our Muslim-world
disaster remain hidden. These wretches are America's history teachers.
They have failed so utterly that no leader in either party appears
to understand U.S. history or the basically nontransferable nature
of America's experience. So ineffective have the teachers been that
Americans – leaders and led – expect to replicate abroad the republic
under which they live but about which they know almost nothing.

Recently
neoconservatives and the editorial pages of major dailies have brooded
about the failure of Iraq's constitutional convention to produce
a document worthy of the Founders. While the neocons try to limit
damage to the Bush Administration, other pundits on the right and
the left draw on "history" to remind Americans the U.S.
constitution was not made in a day, and that the 1776–1789
period passed before the Founders produced a constitution which
still is the indispensable guide for those aspiring to self-government.
Because it took America's greatest men 13 years to create the constitution,
the pundits say, we should not worry that the "Iraqi Founders"
are having trouble.

This
argument is glib and, as a friend says, sounds convincing if you
say it fast. It is, however, an argument that can be grounded only
in a malicious intent to mislead Americans or a fundamental ignorance
of our history. It may be both, but certainly is the latter. For
that reason, we should build gallows sturdy enough to accommodate
our history teachers.

The
road to the U.S. constitution began, to choose a plausible date,
with Magna Charta in 1215. From then, Anglo-American political and
constitutional thought meandered through five-plus centuries of
evolution – guided by Christian scripture and punctuated by theoretical
debate, civil and religious wars, regicide, electoral politics,
and world wars – until 1789 and what Catherine Drinker Bowen aptly
described as "Miracle in Philadelphia." Questions: How
many Americans know, let alone can discuss, that fact? How many
Americans can identify a similar post-1215 process in the Islamic
world from which the Iraqi Founders can seek guidance? Whose fault
is it that such elemental realities elude America's bipartisan governing
elite?

Next,
when the Founders signed Jefferson's Declaration, beginning the
journey to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, they
were not only informed by Christian scripture and instructed by
centuries of evolving Anglo-American political theory and moral
philosophy, but also drew on 150-years experience of self-government
in North America, beginning in Jamestown and Plymouth. The Founders
were not off-the-cuff, 90-day wonders when it came to self-government.
They were steeped in centuries of republican theory and history,
and many participated in the day-to-day politics of self-government.
Questions: How many Americans know these clear, bare-bone facts?
From what comparable body of self-governing theory and what record
of practical electoral experience are the Iraqi Founders drawing?
Are they informed and guided, as were our Founders, by Christian
scripture? How can any rational American expect the Iraqis to produce
a "Miracle in Baghdad"?

Finally,
when the Founders signed and the states ratified the Constitution,
how did they know power would be peacefully passed from one government
to another? Well, they didn't. But based on the post-Magna Charta
development of Anglo-American self-government, the Constitutionu2018s
provisions, and the unity-producing reverence Americans had for
George Washington's actions and guidance, the Founders hoped for
an orderly transfer. The accession of John Adams to succeed Washington
did not fully prove the Founder's formula because the Federalists
kept power. But their scheme was validated by the 1800 transfer
from Adams to Jefferson, from one party to another after a vicious
election campaign. Questions: Why do Americans believe elections
in places lacking 800 years of Anglo-American political experience,
like Iraq and Afghanistan, make any difference? Whose fault is it
that U.S. leaders fail to see that elections are meaningless in
societies where there is have no history of peacefully transferring
power and men do not shelve their AK-47s and wait for the next election?

History
teachers are the villains. They have left Americans without a sound
understanding of their history. Crippling at home, their failure
causes our humiliation and defeat abroad. America's experience is
long, arduous, bloody, Christianity-based, and largely unique. Others
may aspire to replicate it, and to them we owe rhetorical support,
prayers, and best wishes. Our experience, however, cannot be installed
in alien cultures in a few years time; and certainly not at bayonet
point. That our otherwise brilliant U.S. leaders do not know this
deep in their bones speaks to the failure of America's history teachers,
a failure that should shame them more painfully than any pain derived
from the noose they richly merit.

September
8, 2005

Michael
Scheuer [send him mail] is
the author of Imperial
Hubris and Through Our Enemies’ Eyes
. He recently resigned
after 22 years at the CIA.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare