A Tale of Two Constitutional Conventions: Iraq's and Ours

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Mr. Newman is Associate Professor of Early American History at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and author of Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

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Next week I will begin teaching a college seminar entitled, “The Early American Republic,” and the first subject we will tackle over the month of September is the framing of the constitution of the United States and the struggle for ratification. By October we will study the challenges to the power of the newly created nation by a political opposition party and by the people themselves. At about the same time, Iraqi citizens will be going to the polls to vote on a proposed federal constitution for their nation. We will be studying that constitutional movement as well for a couple of reasons.

First, many supporters of the president’s war in Iraq have been defending the constitutional process there, despite its setbacks, by comparing Iraq’s difficulties to those faced by the nascent United States. And indeed, they are correct that some similarities exist. Like the U.S. constitutional convention, the Iraqis have been plagued by sectional divisions, economic animosity, and self-interested politicians who are ready to sacrifice justice for political expediency. But that is where the similarities end.

The second, and more important reason for comparison is that of difference. The American states were divided into three interest groups: the plantation agriculture South, the “carrying” East (known to us as “the North”), and the hardscrabble, squatting West. Iraq is divided between the oil-rich Kurdish North, the oil-rich Shiite South, and the oil-poor Sunni-Shiite Middle. In the U.S., the wealthier South and East excluded the impoverished West from the convention, whereas in Iraq, the U.S. has framed the process to include the impoverished Middle.

The difference? In the U.S., the creation of national government was never in question within the Pennsylvania State House (now called Independence Hall). The new government would tackle the problem of Revolutionary War debts owed by Southern and Eastern states. The questions revolved primarily over the shape of the government, principally the amount of control over the economy that states would retain, and the method of representation in the new national government that would provide states the ability to influence national policy. In Iraq, the impoverished Middle, where the insurgency primarily resides, is intimately involved in the drafting process. And there, the Middle is producing a muddle.

In Philadelphia, the majority of delegates supported a national government that reigned supreme over state governments. Indeed, James Madison, the author of the “Virginia Plan” which became the working-document of the debates, called for the national government to hold a veto over states’ laws! (That provision obviously didn’t make it.) It was the opposition from smaller Eastern states that called for a confederation where state sovereignty ruled supreme: the “New Jersey Plan.” In Baghdad, conversely, the majority support a plan called “federalism” which is not very federal at all. In this plan, Iraq would be divided into three states, each with its own laws protected from the national government, its own control of resident resources, and only loosely bound together as Iraq while retaining the right to leave the union. The opposition from the Middle is calling for a strong national government, shared control and benefit from national resources, and assurances that the union will persist. In Philadelphia, where the men assembled all represented economic interests, the impetus to compromise was great, and the “Connecticut Compromise” retained national sovereignty while assuring smaller states equal influence over national policy with the creation of a bi-cameral assembly where the equally apportioned and appointed Senate sits above the popularly apportioned and elected House of Representatives. In Baghdad, no such impetus to compromise exists, and the historical question is: “Why?” This is where differences are important, and where history teaches us if we choose to learn.

The difference is choice. The men who met in Philadelphia had chosen, on their own, to break from the British Empire when it restricted their access to speculate in western lands (inhabited by original peoples) after the French and Indian War, and then levied taxes to raise revenue to pay for the costs of that war and the army of 10,000 troops it left in the colonies to police the colonists and prevent them from moving onto Indian land. They chose to declare their independence even though a majority of Americans were either opposed or indifferent to the proposition in 1776. They chose to arm bands of militia in their colonies turned states to take over local government, to fine and imprison Loyalists, and to coerce neutrals into supporting their war. They chose to invite and accept assistance from France, a first-rate empire, in their anti-imperial crusade. After the battle of Yorktown, they chose to ask the French to remove their navy and their marines from the country, and the French, still fighting Britain for the main prize, the Caribbean, chose to leave. For four years, they chose to live under state laws within the loose union provided by the nation’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, until the problems of international and domestic debt rising from the war pushed them to choose “to amend” the Articles at Philadelphia. Once in the City of Brotherly Love, they chose a course of action as bold and revolutionary as the events of 1776. They chose to defy the law of the Articles and to defy the wishes of the state governments that sent them to Philadelphia by proposing a wholly new constitution. Not surprisingly, they chose to hold their convention in complete secrecy.

The men (and a few women) who are meeting in Baghdad have made none of these choices. They did not choose to overthrow an offensive imperial power. Instead, a quasi-imperial power invaded their country, killed thousands of their soldiers and civilians, toppled their government, turned over the reconstruction and economic development of their country to its own private contractors, and then informed them that it was their duty to create a free and democratic form of government. So, at their convention, they are now exercising their choice, and that choice seems to be the opposite of what the invader intended. They are choosing not to compromise. In the U.S., eight years of fighting the British created a Revolutionary majority. Though by no means a consensus in 1783, the rebels had forged a common cause in spite of sectional, economic, religious, and ethnic differences. And in victory, they believed that they had created something worth saving. They had created a nation, and, in so doing, a national debt. To save one from the other, the Revolutionaries believed that they still had something to fight for in 1787. Not so in Iraq. There is little nationalistic feeling in Iraq. The Shiite South did not reach out to the Kurdish North to battle Saddam’s Sunnis oppressing the Shiites in the Middle. They have no victory. They have no nation. They do have debts, as well as assets, but they lack a self-created nationalism needed to convince the North and the South to share both.

The differences between Iraq’s and the U.S. constitutional processes (and many, many more exist) far outweigh the similarities, and it is the differences gleaned from history that provide us a glimpse into Iraq’s future. Neo-conservative pundits, like David Brooks from the New York Times, who like to excuse Iraq’s constitutional troubles by citing similarities to the U.S. experience, state that constitution making is hard, and that even the U.S. descended into Civil war over the principal issue of states’ rights versus federal power, and besides, that was four score and seven years later. This should not comfort us. In the U.S., there were local movements (and one war in Massachusetts) against state governments in the year before the Philadelphia Convention. But in Iraq, civil war is not decades in the future. It is an insurgency that is spiraling into civil war right this instant, as seen by the fighting between rival Shiite factions in recent days. And in the U.S., the framers created a national government with supreme power, allowing it to put down threats to the union like the misnamed “Whiskey Rebellion” in 1794 (really a rebellion against federal taxing, trading, and land policies), Fries’s Rebellion against the federal government’s Sedition Act and Direct Tax in 1798, and the Confederate insurrection in 1861. Iraq’s central government will lack that authority.

From this historian’s perspective, what we are witnessing in Iraq is not the birth of a nation, but rather, the stillbirth of a failed nation. What a great teaching moment for my college students. What a tragedy for the Iraqi people.

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Liz Rose Arabia - 10/31/2005

This article was very well-written and brought forth many points about Iraq and the U.S. that I did not realize.

Crystal Fabina - 9/17/2005

I do not see any connection between our forming of the constitution and Iraq's. Anyone who still sees extreme similarities between the two should reread Prof Newman's article. The US voluntarily broke free from Great Britian and formed our constitution--Iraq is still squabbling with each other over money because they never wanted order and structure in their country. Nothing is getting done; no constitution is being written.

Ben Reese - 9/4/2005

This article was extremely insightful and clearly demonstrated a relationship between the U.S. and Iraqi constitutions. It was also quite a relief not to have to listen to another conservative, "It worked for us so it will work for them" type of article. It seems that the consensus when comparing the two is that things will be alright, but is that really the case? Should we be optimistic about the future of Iraq? It's not going to be some easy thing to get a working constitution together; it will take some time, and even then there are no guarantees. The differences between the USA and Iraq must be shown because if history repeats itself, both sides need to be told accurately, and this article brought one of the fewer told views to the table.

Jim B. Harris - 9/2/2005

I am reading Founding Fathers by Joseph Ellis and it paints a far less rosy picture about the challenges that faced our early history and attempts to put together the Consititution. You did not bring up the issue of slavery, and the problem that caused. The answer of course was the Constitution included a cause to push off the issue for 20 years. That failure to deal with it caused what to happen 70 years later? yep, the civil war, and the loss of life of over 600,000 young men.

What the Iraqi's have right now is a chance, something they did not have the last 30 years. It may work, it may not. But I hope you are not hoping for it not to work so you can show your students how smart you are. That would be as big a shame as anything else.

Deborah Lee DeArmitt - 9/1/2005

I have not really been keeping up to date with all the news in Iraq, and my experience in this area is limited. Still, I found the article quite interesting and well written. I made many good points that I feel people should take into consideration before comparing the Iraq constitution to ours and making it seem as though they are exactly alike. There are some similarities, but there are many difference also. Although I hope all works out for the best, and the Iraq people can compromise and have a successful new government, I fear it will not work.

Amanda Marie Dolnack - 8/31/2005

I agree with what Newman said in this article. I feel that Iraq isnt a strong enough nation to handle this on their own. The US is trying to help them in many way but also at the same time are trying to bring them down. I believe as newman said their nation is going to fail. Therefore, there are going to be some innocent people in Iraq that in the end are screwed for a situation that they cant really control.

Carmelo James Furnari - 8/31/2005

I would really have to agree with you on the fact that the article was excellent and I also would like to mention another point that you brought up. I remember only having a few history courses in High School, it just seems that maybe High School's should be teaching a little more History then they are? Has anyone else experienced this?

lyndsi elizabeth mcginnis - 8/31/2005

I think I only had one or two history classes in high school and I wish it would have been more. I enjoy learning the history of our country and all that goes with it. It sounds like the class is going to be much more than that and I'm excited. The article was interesting and included many things I never took into thought. I am just hoping this war ends soon and our men come home safe!

Trista L Simon - 8/31/2005

Just because the Japanese and German constitutions were created with more U.S influence than the Iraqi's, and are peaceful doesn't mean that the Iraqi constitution will eventually be peaceful. You can not force something on a group of people, which have shown as much instability as the Iraqi people have and say they want it. I agree with Carmelo that in years to come there will be civil unrest whether it is extensive or not, only time will tell.

Lindsey Grace Yost - 8/31/2005

I haven't really followed the Iraq news much. But I don't see many similarities between them and us. We are two totally different countries. I think Iraq should take care of themselves....that's if they can build themselves up again. Just a little thing....if no two people are alike....then how can two countries be alike? We make the countries we live in.

Tiffany A Bumbarger - 8/31/2005

I will admit that I don't know very much about what is going on in Iraq, but the situation in Iraq does appear to be an excellent opportunity for history students to consider, but I don't think that any conclusions should be made about the success or the failure of the Iraqi nation yet. The differences between the U.S. and Iraq are evident, but this does not necessarily imply anything. History is a good predictor of what could happen for Iraq, but only time and the Iraqi people can tell us whether their nation will be a success or a failure.

John H. Lederer - 8/31/2005

I seem to recall there were riots in Pennsylvania about the Constitution and at least one state rejected adoption ...and he already had a history of seven years under the Articles of Confederation. For that matter I suspect that one could argue that the War of 1812 was, in several respects, a continuation of the War of Independence, and almost resulted in the secession of New England.

Melissa Anne Kovalcin - 8/31/2005

Even though the first ten people already submitted their comments, I would just like to say that I really did enjoy your article. It actually made a college student think a lot bit more than about beer and parties. I really enjoyed it, and it made me think of what I really thought on the issue. Thanks Newman, my brain hurts. :)

Kim McGovern - 8/31/2005

This article was very interesting to read. There are defiantly some major differences between our government and the Iraqi government. I feel that the Iraqis will be faced with many challenges some for which I’m not sure if they will be able to handle and I don't think that we should help them.

Frederick Thomas - 8/31/2005

Mr Furnari:

To be consistent, you must renounce the current German and Japanese constitutions as well as the Iraqi, as both were created with even more US influence than was the Iraqi.

Yet they are peaceful and successful. I suggest that you focus upon the real danger, the uncooperative and murderous Sunni minority, as expounded in detail elsewhere herein.

Occasionally, a conqueror does beneficial things for the "victim" country.

Steph Vasko - 8/31/2005

This was a very interesting article. The differences in the creation of our government and the Iraqi government are astonishing. I feel the Iraqi "nation" is not united enough to prevail the way the United States expects them to.

Kelly Haugh - 8/31/2005

It seems the biggest hindrance in Iraq is the Sunni Muslim minority that spent 20+ years as the ruling class. Obviously, they wouldn't be happy about losing their power and now becoming the weakest group in the country, being forced to rely on the very groups they helped oppress. It makes sense that the Shiites and the Kurds would want to govern themselves after their years of oppression, remaining as seperated as possible from the oppressive Sunnis. However, such a seperation would only lead to more fighting and terrorist attacks by the Sunnis.
The Iraqi people obviously have several very important decisions to make, as does any country overthrows the ruling party. My biggest disagreement with Dr. Newman's article is that he claims the Iraqi people didn't choose this. FIrst of all, do you really think the Iraqi people preferred being tortured and oppressed by an evil dicator to freedom? Granted, they didn't come out and directly ask us for our help - this time. However, they've asked for our help in overthrowing Saddam before in 1994 and 1995, plots which Saddam found out about before they could come to fruition. We accomplished what the Iraqis couldn't, handing them their freedom and the dictator who they'd tried and failed to remove.

deidra R Williamson - 8/31/2005

Thank you! That is exactly what I was trying to say... You took the words right out of my mouth!

Brooke Pierce - 8/30/2005

I agree, I know I was one of those Dr. Newman spoke of in the first paragraph who was taught nothing in History class.
Quite honestly after reading no more than a few paragraphs or listening to his lecture today I am beginning to come to the realization of how true that is. My History teachers would take rule and play online, rarely giving even the slightest amount of work. Maybe a poster a month if lucky.

I was never exposed to the complexity of the United States Government, So my opinions on this piece are not nearly as broad as I know they should be. At the moment I'm not too sure if I even agree with us going there in the first place, or staying nearly as long as we have. Then again I may be being biast because I've known too many people that have left house and home to go over and fight for a nation that in my mind had no real will to be invaded. Then again when does a nation will it upon themselves?

Joseph Heffley - 8/30/2005

First off, God bless our service men and women. But I totally disagree with your "defening our freedom" comment. Iraq did not have the capability of harming the U.S., unless through terrorism, which it has not proven to have done, since the 1993 World Trade Center bomding (I believe). So how we should have felt threatened by such a weak country, I do not know. Invading THEIR country and setting up THEIR form of government, is not a country wanting to form a free society.Rather a country being told what to do and how to think. Now leaders in our government are comparaing what is going on in Iraq to what our country went through in the years leading up and then followeing 1787, is wrong. Granted there are some common things bewteen the two, but the differneces greatly out weight the similarties. An invasion does not equal a revolution. Also who are we to "help" Iraq, when they did not ask for it.

Jamie Williams - 8/30/2005

I agree with Mr. Newman about the importance of the differences between the U.S. constitution and the Iraqi constitution. Although both had setbacks, the cause of the setbacks should be recognized. The U.S. forced ourselves into this failed nation to eventually provide stability to their government. The people of Iraq had no control over our decisions. They were not given a choice. Most tend to disagree with our motives which prevents the constitution from being constructed as the U.S. desired. The situation in Iraq provides great knowledge for Americans. Sadly, the Iraqi people will suffer, and I'm sure that is not by choice either.

deidra R Williamson - 8/30/2005

i totally agree with what you are saying. Do i support my country? sure i do! Do i support the men and women out there fighting? sure i do! I just think that the iraqis deserve a choice in the matter too. I mean it is their country. I agree with Newman's article too, however, i just found that one statement stating the facts about the country to be disturbing. You just have to realize, that no matter what influence we attempt to have on the iraqi people, or what help we offer, there will always be terrorists out there and others who disagree with the United States. All i was trying to say is that i don't think it is right to "tell" them what they "need" to do. I think they too deserve a choice.

jessica lynn heinlein - 8/30/2005

in reply to "Yet, we find it okay to do this to other "nations" just to benefit ourselves. It really upsets me to think that we are forcing a nation into a constitution that they are not even aware of" posted by another student...

Iraq needs the United States help if they ask for it or not. If we are the greatest nation of the world, then why not help them out to becoming a more civilized nation. What the United States serivce men and women are doing is a good thing, and the citizen of the United States who dont support the war, they need to. Our men and women are defending our freedom. Just not the ones who support the war...so remember that too. They are the ones who are willing to make this a better, safer place.

I agree with Newman's article...and i see his points. Never really thought about it that way, but I totally agree.

deidra R Williamson - 8/30/2005

To clarify:
I don't think that we can compare the two constitutions. The people of each group are not in the same situation. It just seems to me that we wanted to "free" them from there leader, when it seems like we are trying to make them just like us with the democratic constitution. it just seems like we are holding them back and forcing them into something without a choice.

deidra R Williamson - 8/30/2005

Let me begin by using a quote from Dr. Newman's article:
" They did not choose to overthrow an offensive imperial power. Instead, a quasi-imperial power invaded their country, killed thousands of their soldiers and civilians, toppled their government, turned over the reconstruction and economic development of their country to its own private contractors, and then informed them that it was their duty to create a free and democratic form of government."

I find this completely disturbing. We are supposed to be a nation founded on freedoms and liberties, at least that is what our high school teachers and textbooks want us to believe. Yet, we find it okay to do this to other "nations" just to benefit ourselves. It really upsets me to think that we are forcing a nation into a constitution that they are not even aware of.

i just find that whole statement to be so disturbing. Imagining that other people are being subjected to this type of treatment is really sad. The sad thing is americans don't see it that way. All we picture are a bunch of happy iraqis dancing in the streets praising the USA for doing such a great job. When in reality, we may have put them under more restraints than their former leader. I just find it really sad.

Jessica Romaine Lochner - 8/30/2005

I personally dont know a whole lot about the topic but from what i read, the two constitutions are very different and cannot be compared. As far as Iraq goes, i think they should develope their constitution based on Iraq and not the invaders or the United States. In my opinion, i think Iraq is screwed either way and that the constitution really wont help them out in the long run.

christina phillips - 8/30/2005

I think that Iraq is going to continue to keep having local movements and fights between each other. Just like the US did when they formed their constitution. However I believe that Iraq has to make their own constitution and not let it invaded force it ideas on them

Ryan Michael Japalucci - 8/30/2005

I have never really looked at the problem at hand this way before. I found the information concerning the three different intrest groups interesting. I have never considered the U.S. to be broken into those groups and the comparison to the Iraq's was informing.

Paul Douglas Newman - 8/30/2005

I hope you are right. I'm just a bit more "half empty" than you are, I guess.

Anson Carl Osman - 8/30/2005

This was a very well written piece. I thought it was very interesting that Dr. Newman compared this birth of a new nation to the birth of America which happened such a long time ago. Although for a college student with very little background with the topic at hand, while I was reading it I felt the same way Dr. Newman did in that we might not be witnessing a rise of a new nation but rather getting ourselves to involved when we ourselves were a failed nation. Just imagine how messed up our country would be if perhaps another country had the same influence on us as we do on the formation of the Iraq government.

Lisa Marie Bloom - 8/30/2005

I have to agree with Carmelo in the fact that by forcing this constitution to be drawn up in the way it is happening we're forcing something onto the people of Iraq which will only be overthrown in a few years time leading to a repeat of the present day war. The people of Iraq are still divided and until something is done to solve that problem, attempting to draw up a constitution is useless.

Kaely Mae Potochnik - 8/30/2005

I quit following the news about Iraq about 3 or 4 months ago so I'm not up to date on the latest happenings. In my mind, the U.S. got itself into a political battle over power in a place where it isn't welcome. The article does bring up a point that I found interesting because the average American wouldn't normally compare the U.S. to Iraq. The U.S. constitution was written in a time where people had different values and beliefs, but the world has dramatically changed since then. The documents may have similarities, but I don't feel it is accurate to compare the two countries constitutions.

Julia Faye Weimer - 8/30/2005

I agree with Carmelo. Having the U.S. involved in every step of Iraq's political process is only hurting them in the long run. Iraq and the U.S. have very few, if any, similarities when it comes to government and way of life. Ideas that are extremely important to Americans may have little influence in the minds of the Iraqi people. Why should we push to have them set up their government like ours? Who says that everything in our government perfect?

I agree with much that was said in your article. It truely is a shame for the Iraqi people.

Lisa Ann Naugle - 8/30/2005

I also do not know much about the topic. However from what I do understand I feel that the two constitutions are obviously extremely different. I do think however that Iraq needs to attempt to build their government without interferences from foreign nations. Iraq seems to be basically screwed right now and i agree that they do have a long way to go in creating an appropriate system but the US from what i can see does not seem to be making things better, but if possible, worse.

Lacey Nicole Schmidt - 8/30/2005

The difference in American Society and that of which is in Iraq is different enough to make comparing the two gov'ts very difficult. Who's to say that if a substantial gov't does form in Iraq that it will be upkept and not left to ruins? The people have been able to overrun the gov't. The 'nation,' if you even want to call it that, of Iraq is stuck in a huge, deep rut and it's gov't has a very long way to go to set up an appropriate system.

Carmelo James Furnari - 8/30/2005

I feel that one of the main differences between the drafting of Iraq's new Constitution and the drafting of the United States Constition is the influence factor. When the United States drafted its Constitution there was not a more powerful nation supervising every step like there is in Iraq. If Iraq was able to complete the process from start to finish without any foreign influence they would in fact be better off in the long run. Proceeding the way that they are is going to do nothing more than cause serious civil conflicts for years to come.

Mallory Cavanaugh - 8/30/2005

Although I don't know a lot about this topic I agree with this article from what I do know. For a person to say that the drafting of our constitution and the drafting of the Iraqi constitution are very similar just isn't true. There are a lot of differences, which were stated in the article, to prove it.

I found the article to be very informative. Thank you.

John H. Lederer - 8/30/2005

"the cards have been so stacked against their success by the U.S. "liberation.""

I simply do not understand that. I do think the US's administration after the war has been imperfect, but absent the liberation Iraq's had zero chance of success, if success is defined as the ability to govern themsleves. The lesson is not theoretical. look at the slaughter of Shiites after the First Gulf War when they rebelled and we failed to support them.

Iraqis now have a good chance to have a representative free government. We will have to see what they make of that chance.

We tend to lose perspective as we assault the Bush administration. I think the beginning of Christopher Hitchen's recent essay is, as it was intended to be, an eye opener:
"LET ME BEGIN WITH A simple sentence that, even as I write it, appears less than Swiftian in the modesty of its proposal: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad."

I could undertake to defend that statement against any member of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, and I know in advance that none of them could challenge it, let alone negate it. Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day."

So I think it is with Iraqis chnace for represtative government. Not a perfect chance, but a good one.

Paul Douglas Newman - 8/30/2005

I think the tragedy is that the Iraqi people face such an uphill climb to Democracy, that so many have died and will die in support or opposition, and that the cards have been so stacked against their success by the U.S. "liberation." As I said earlier, I'm not offering an iron-clad prediction of failure, and I do hope they can succeed, I'm just not at all optimistic about imposed democracies.

Frederick Thomas - 8/30/2005

"For how long after the Peace of Paris did the Loyalists continue to fight for the Crown?"

Less than 1 year. The treaty provided the Nova Scotia relocation location for loyalists. In Iraq there is none such, hence our constitutional problem.

"How long did their vicious attacks continue?"

They tapered off during the year of treaty negotiations.

"Why did it extinguish so fast?"

A solution was at hand-Nova Scotia, which the loyalists called "nova scarcity."

"Why hasn't it extinguished in Iraq?"

No solution is at hand. The Sunnis have been in their triangle for 1000 years, having attacked from Arabia.

They have a long established tradition of mideaval brutality against their neighbors which is the base of their power. If there were a Nova Scotia to send them to, the problem would have been resolved.

Good luck with the seminar. I hope we understand one another a little better.

John H. Lederer - 8/30/2005

According to Messrs Gallup a plurality of Iraqis think the invasion did more good than harm, a majority think that they themselves are better off.

Moreover a poll out today seems to show keen interest and intent to participate in the consitutional creation.

Polling in Iraq is filled with problems. Nonetheless your view seems far more pessimistic than that of the Iraqis. Quite strikingly polls portray them as optimistic about their future.

So...why do you conclude that all is a tragedy for the Iraqis?

John H. Lederer - 8/30/2005

The Sunnis seem to believe that if the Americans withdrew they could, once more, by force of arms become the ruling class in Iraq.

That would seem to me to be the critical difference between them and the Loyalists.

It is additionally worth noting at least a low level belief by some British in the War of 1812 that they would enjoy the support of some Americans, and might succeed in splitting up the US as the secessionist movement in New England indicated would be possible. I suspect, however, that the British were not at all sure that a split US would be to their advantage (which at least at the beginning of the War had to be focused on implications for the war in Europe)

Paul Douglas Newman - 8/29/2005

Mr. Thomas,

I'll be happy to continue this dialogue if you would answer my questions. I directly engaged your critique, I'd appreciate if you'd do the same.

Of course the Loyalists helped the British in the South, and the Brits exacted some terrible revenge there...and so too did the Patriots I might add. The war was vicious on both sides. But my question remains the same. For how long after the Peace of Paris did the Loyalists continue to fight for the Crown? How long did their vicious attacks continue? Why did it extinguish so fast? Why hasn't it extinguished in Iraq? If you would answer those question, for yourself and not me, you'll get my point. Once the war was over, the Loyalist "insurgency" (which, technically it wasn't) evaporated! Will the Sunni insurgency evaporate? Well, two years later, it certainly has not.

And regarding the French, well, yes, the Kurds are happy that we became their Frenchmen, and the southern Shia seem to be too, but Sadr's Middle Country shia don't seem to be too happy about it, do they? (And it was the middle that I was writing about.) And that's where the trouble is, the Middle, where Sadr's Shia and the Sunnis make up the majority.

Finally, don't worry, my students will get a very informative and comparative seminar.


Frederick Thomas - 8/29/2005

Thank you for your remarks. In response:

You may "structure and teach" your class in any way you wish. I simply suggest that the complex facts be as fully and accurately expounded as possible.

The analogy between the Sunni and Loyalists may not be as far fetched as you believe. Many Loyaltists here had served in British units, as scouts and auxiliaries, particularly in the South where many atrocities were committed, most by the British. Things were a little bit strained.

The suggestion that Loyalists move to Nova Scotia was, I believe you may find, very rudely presented to them, and backed up by force of arms.

But my main point is this: dealing with obsrtuctive loyalists/minorities in some way is and was essential to the process.

In my opinion, you need to identify the choke point of the process, which the Sunnis are, so that your students understand they can make the process succeed or fail. We are not now quite so far apart on that point, I believe.

Your comments on lack of a shared national experience are interesting. The principal unifier for us was French military support, without which we would have lost within less than two years.

The presense of a supportive major external ally is important. Is the US fulfilling that function in Iraq? Most Shi'a would say yes, and have done so in polls, and essentially all the Kurds would say yes. If GB I had followed through with his promise to help them after GW I, the Shi'a would have been totally supportive.

I wish you luck with your seminar. Make 'em think and learn something!

Paul Douglas Newman - 8/29/2005

Well, Mr. Thomas, first of all, with all due respect, I don't believe that it is your place to tell me how to structure or teach my class.

Second, your comparisonof Sunnis to British Loyalists is a bit of a stretch, don't you think? I mean, many British Loyalists at least had a place(s) to go after the war...do the Sunnis? British Loyalists shared the same culture, language and customs with their revolutionary neighbors...do the Sunnis? British Loyalists who did stay were not economically marginalized as a regional minority...are the Sunnis? The answers are no, no, and yes. These are important differences. Also, how long after the Peace of Paris during the American Confederation did the British Loyalists wage a terroristic guerilla war against their revolutionary neighbors? The Sunnis have been involved in the insurgency since May of 2003. Will a constitution that marginalizes them politically and economically end or fuel the insurgency? What do you think?

And concerning my article, the point I was making (or at least feebly attempting to make) is that the Iraqis do not have a shared revolutionary experience of choice that would engender some level of trust among the three major factions, trust that would make compromise possible. After I wrote the piece on Friday afternoon, the Sunnis rejected the Kurd-Shiite constitution and advised their people to vote against it in the Oct 15 referendum. The Kurds and Shia would not compromise local control of law and resources for the purpose of a strong national Iraqi state, and the Sunnis do not trust that Kurdish-Shia "federalism" will provide them with political voice or sufficient resources.

The other point that I was addressing in my piece was that supporters of the War in Iraq are choosing to cite similarities between the two constitutional processes rather than differences, which President Bush did over the weekend. How anyone, especially historians, can conflate the two is beyond me. It's even a cruder analogy than comparison of Iraq to Vietnam. In both cases, I believe that the differences are better teachers than the similarities.


Frederick Thomas - 8/29/2005

Thank you for your article, Prof. Newman, with which I differ in important ways, and thank you, Mr. Jenista, for asking the right question.

Iraq has only one major constitutional problem-the 20% Sunni arabs, who are a cruel and tendentious minority and who have been inured by Saddam to having the power of life and death over the majority Shi'a and Kurdish countrymen.

This minority formed the core of the army, hence war casualties, the majority of "civilian" casualties, the majority of native insurgents, etc. They are the problem, and it does no good to sugar coat it.

This problem was caused by the hapless British who made nations out of their former posessions without considering such important differences. Indeed, ultra-Imperialist Churchill later referred to the state of Iraq as a dog's breakfast. It should have been three states, and the war would have been unnecessary, ditto for Nigeria, Rwanda, Rhodesia, etc. etc.

Take away the Sunni, and terrorism is almost eliminated. Without the murderous Sunni, the constitution is a slam dunk, because the other two principal groups demand it "as is."

The implications of this very practical ethnical consideration seem to have eluded the good professor.

The early USA had such a minority group too, the British loyalists, also roughly 20% of the total. The problem was solved by exporting them to Canada and to the UK, which is not a very pretty process.

I further note that the USA went through 8 years of Iraqi-style "Federalism" under the Articles of Confederation, which gave the individual states the great balance of power. The inadequacy of the AOC for war fighting was the main reason why the eventual constitution was promulgated. Perhaps the AOC are no longer taught in American History courses.

Indeed, the entire question of whether there should be a strong central government was fought out to the end-remember the "Federalist" debate, fortunately done in writing so we have it today to remind us.

The professor should also recall that plantations formed a tiny minority (less than 5%)of agricultural enterprises in the South at that time, since the product was mainly tobacco. This factor was to grow a little only after cotton became the principal product 30-40 years later.

Both products were exported to Europe, hence the South "carried" all other regions in terms of payments of Federal taxes to the tune of about 70% of tax payments.

I hope the good professor includes these corrections in his seminar, which is surely on an important subject, and needs to be told accurately.

Paul Douglas Newman - 8/29/2005

Well, I certainly hope that they do succeed, and that there is a peaceful future ahead of them. And if they do succeed, we'll look at the Iraqi Parliament and the people to understand how THEY succeeded in spite of the tremendous obstacles confronting them. If they succeed, it will be their triumph, something within them and their community (ies) that will make the difference. But given the starting point they've been given, I'm not at all optomistic, and I would never suggest that the U.S. should ever again use regime change to jump start a democratic process, whether this effort succeeds or not.

Frank Jenista - 8/29/2005

And if the many Iraqis who want their democracy to succeed do muddle through, manage to keep Iraq intact and eventually make a new Iraqi work, your students will have learned what lesson from their teacher?