Iraq need its own set of founding fathers

George Will

4/24/2003 12:00:00 AM - George Will

WASHINGTON--An old baseball joke: A manager says his team needs just two more players to become a pennant contender. But, he says, ``The players are Ruth and Gehrig.''

Iraq needs only four people to achieve post-Saddam success. Unfortunately they are George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall.

Since the Second World War, which culminated in many regime changes, the United States has had at least a hand in shaping regimes in many places beyond Japan and Germany, as in Italy, where the CIA helped the democratic parties turn back the Communist challenge in the 1948 elections. U.S. actions have determined, or helped to determine, the nature of regimes in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), South Vietnam (the coup that killed President Ngo Dinh Diem in October 1963), Chile (1973), Panama (1989), Nicaragua (via the Contras, 1990) and Afghanistan (2001), among other places.

Particularly instructive is the U.S. experience in South Korea, which was still occupied as a colony by Japanese forces at the end of the Second World War. In his history of the Korean War, Max Hastings writes that when U.S. officials arrived on the peninsula in September 1945, their not altogether helpful instruction was ``to create a government in harmony with U.S. policies.''

Americans had no immediate alternative to confirming Japanese colonial officials in their civil administration duties. And Japanese soldiers and police continued to be responsible for maintaining order. When, after four months, 70,000 Japanese civil servants and 600,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians had been sent home, the American military government replaced them mainly with Koreans who had government experience--because they had collaborated with Japan's detested colonial administration.

America's chosen leader for South Korea was Syngman Rhee, who had a Harvard M.A. and a Princeton Ph.D.--he was the first Korean to receive an American doctoral degree. He had lived in America for the previous 35 years. So, although he lacked the credential of having been active in the resistance to the Japanese, he was free from the taint of having collaborated with them. Rhee proved to be autocratic and corrupt.

To fathom today's challenge of political reconstruction in Iraq, consider three things: How much ingenuity was required for Americans in the 1780s and beyond to construct a permanent replacement for the colonial system of governance. How many political geniuses were found for that task. And how much easier America's task, although Herculean, was than Iraq's will be.

Iraq needs, quickly, four things that America required years--decades, really--to acquire. First, a leader who symbolizes national unity. Second, a constitution that establishes federalism that accommodates and tempers regionalism and durable factions. Third, an interpreter of the constitution who can prevent centrifugal tendencies from turning federalism into a force that makes the central government too weak to prevent disintegration through secession. Fourth, the institutions--and mores--needed for an entrepreneurial market system.

Americans in the 1780s shared a temperate political culture. Neither the oppressions they had experienced before the war for independence--if the Stamp Act and such inconveniences and insults can be called oppressions--nor the brutalities of war (particularly in the Southern theater) traumatized Americans as Saddam's regime has traumatized Iraqis. Yet America needed and was fortunate to have a leader with the unifying stature of Washington.

America was socially homogenous. Tensions between Protestants, Catholics and Quakers, and English and German speakers, were trivial compared to those between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, and between Iraqi Kurds and everyone else. America's factions were primarily economic and regional, not ethnic and sectarian. Yet America needed and was fortunate to have Madison to provide a democratic theory and constitutional practices to tame

them.

America was bursting with potential for economic dynamism based on diverse agriculture and manufacturing in a vast market. But first it needed and was fortunate to have Hamilton's understanding of the prerequisites of a market society.

America had regional tensions: The first secessionist impulse arose in mercantile New England, which suffered under President Jefferson's trade embargo directed against England and France. And memories of the heavy hand of George III--hardly as heavy as Saddam's hand on Iraq--made many Americans wary of a national government with energy sufficient for national needs. America was fortunate that Chief Justice Marshall read such energy into the Constitution.

Iraq's success will require just four people--four akin to Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Marshall. But that means it also needs the social soil in which such people bloom. And the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are just two players away from being contenders.