Reflections on American and Iraqi Independence
As we approach the celebration of the day the American Colonies declared their intention to be independent of English rule, it is fascinating to watch the on-going struggle of the Iraqi peoples as they chart their political future.
Iraq faces many challenges: First, Iraq is demographically not one nation, but three: the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites. Second, on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam Hussein released over 100,000 prison inmates. Third, some Iraqis fear Saddam is not dead. And, while they understand at some level he isn’t coming back to power, they fear his assassins could kill them for cooperating with the Coalition forces. Fourth, al Qaeda, along with Syria and Iran, is facilitating the infiltration of non-Iraqi terrorists to harass Coalition troops. Fifth, Saddam’s brutal police state employed a lot of thugs who are now jobless.
That said, the vast majority of Iraqis did not like the institutions and practices of Saddam Hussein regime. Now, they face the daunting task of figuring out how to govern a nation that has never known government of the people, by the people and for the people.
In that regard, the on-going Iraqi Revolution, if you will, is very much like the French Revolution but very much unlike the American Revolution.
Many Americans do not understand the vast difference between the American and the French Revolutions. In fact, the American Revolution was unlike any revolution before it and unlike any revolution ever since.
Here’s the difference: When the American colonies declared their intention to be independent of Great Britain on July 4, 1776, they didn’t take that dangerous and breathtaking step because they hated the institutions and practices of the English form of government. No, indeed.
We Americans loved the freedoms devolving from the Magna Carta. We loved the concepts of the English Rule of Law. We loved the English courts where the accused were given: the presumption of innocence, the chance to face their accusers in open court and trial by a jury of one’s peers. We loved the protections the English enjoyed against unlawful search and seizure. We liked the idea of not being pressed into military service unwillingly, We envied the protections against the quartering of soldiers without consent and, most importantly, we loved the idea of having a say about being taxed or not and, if so, by how much.
So, you see, we Americans did not revolt against the institutions and practices of England. We just wanted them applied to us. We wanted to enjoy the same freedoms and protections as our English cousins.
By contrast, the French people rose up against a tyrannical monarchy They hated being locked into caste system composed of three estates: the clergy, the nobles and the peasants. They despised star-chamber courts, summary executions, being forced to serve in the French army and, most of all, having no voice at all in how they were treated by their so-called “betters.” Nor were they keen about starvation.
So, the only way the French and American revolutions bear any resemblance to each other is that the French revolutionaries wanted the same things the American revolutionaries wanted: the democratic institutions and practices of the English-speaking peoples against whom, ironically, the French had been at war for over 100 years.
Back to Iraq. Once the five security problems facing Iraq are more under control, we will see the peoples of Iraq choose a form of government very unlike the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.
But, as we incubate the hatching of this new Iraqi, we should understand Iraqi is, yet another, unfortunate consequence of the peace treaty ending World War I. Then, British Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, personally sketched the outline of Iraq. Years later, Sir Winston lamented he did not give the Kurds in northeastern Iraq their own nation.
The Kurds would love to be independent. Maybe that should be America’s gift to them.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – novels about terrorist attacks on Colorado’s water supply and on the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2003. William Hamilton