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May 7, 2003
CONTACT: David Fish
(202) 289-8928

Nation-Building in Iraq
What's a Founder to Do? Ask James Madison

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The war is over, now what the heck do we do? That question has been asked countless times throughout history, and it is certainly being asked now in Iraq as that country frames a new government. Fortunately, there is a ‘how-to’ book that seems to have worked – The Federalist Papers. While the American experience is unique in many respects, Iraq faces a challenge not unlike that faced by Madison, Hamilton and Jay when they penned their classic political tome, or by Madison when he served as lead drafter of the Constitution: creating a representative democracy that respects individual freedom and protects minorities from majority factions.

In his most recent Legal Times column, “Present at the Creation,” Progress & Freedom Senior Fellow and Director of Communications Studies Randolph J. May suggests some practical ways the founders of the new Iraq can help turn the fractious “Iraqi stew” into a functioning democracy. One necessary ingredient, he says, is the emergence of virtuous political leaders in the Madisonian sense.

Citing classic Federalist Papers 10 and 51, May says the biggest obstacle to a viable Iraqi government is human nature resulting in “deep, long-standing factional divisions” between regions, religions, ethnic groups and political entities. “In dictatorships like Saddam’s, factionalism is suppressed, but at the cost of freedom.” To preserve freedom, May suggests a constitutional framework creating a separation of powers and checks and balances, as in the successful American experiment. Also helpful, he writes, will be a tripartite system and “federal-level charter” such as our Bill of Rights. He advises against parliamentary government because of its “frequent dissolution and reassembling of multi-factional coalition governments,” and, contrary to the American experience, he would want “more authority to devolve to the provincial level.”

Stopping short of suggesting a country could simply adopt our constitutional framework, May says, Iraq “should rely on more than structural safeguards to protect against government-sanctioned oppression.” In the end, “the balance likely will hang in the character of the men and women who emerge as leaders of the nation-building effort.”

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the impact of the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1993.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation