After living for decades under tyranny, Iraq is free at last. Given the chance to start anew, you would think the liberated Iraqis would take pains to avoid falling prey to another "Butcher of Baghdad." Yet for all the rights enshrined in Iraq's new constitution, the right to self-defense is explicitly forbidden.
Some observers are calling Iraq's new charter a "Bill of Rights Constitution." It guarantee, among other things, the right to speak freely, the right to publish (Article 13), the right to a fair trial (Article 15), and the right to private property (Article 16). It also contains some rights that are extraordinary for an Islamic nation, such as the right of religious freedom (Article 13), and the right of equality for women (Article 12). But the right to defend oneself against the predations of terrorists, criminals, or a government whose commitment to freedom may some day waver is denied to the citizens of the new Iraq. The new constitution says, "It shall not be permitted to possess, bear, buy, or sell arms except on licensure issued in accordance with the law." (Article 17) And you can be sure that under the firearms laws already promulgated by our own L. Paul Bremer, these permits will not be easily obtained.
Who, after all, will the constitution disarm? Certainly not the remnants of the old Ba'athist regime. Nor will al Qaeda terrorists operating in Iraq be deterred by the new law. Only law abiding citizens will be impacted by this infringement of their rights.
Unlike the United States, Iraq is a country unschooled in the ways of self-government. What will prevent the new government from oppressing the Sunni and Kurdish minorities once they have rendered unable to defend themselves? The Kurds, of all people, should know better. So should we. Iraqis and Turks have oppressed the Kurds for a very long time. Unarmed minorities always suffer at the hands of governments that do not share their interests. Why should things be any different now?
The new government promises "well being...and security" to its citizens, but delivering on that promise without the assistance of law-abiding, armed citizens will be difficult to say the least. The new constitution says, nobly enough, that the people "enjoy all the rights that befit a free people possessed of their human dignity" (Article 23). But if that's true, then why is the new government afraid to let the people defend themselves? Gun-ban policies in more countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom have been nothing short of disastrous. There is no reason to believe that such policies will work better in a fledgling democracy like Iraq.
The fingerprints of enlightened liberal westerners are all over Iraq's new constitution. Religious freedom for all and equal rights for women clearly reflect that influence, but so does this unhealthy aversion to personal firearms. Americans have fought and died to bring freedom to these long-oppressed people, but we have now planted the seeds of their undoing even as we try to help them start again. If the study of history and human nature can tell us anything it is that without the right of self-defense, all other rights depend on the good will of the governing authority.
What will happen? Most likely, the Iraqi people will ignore this provision of their new constitution. Alexander Hamilton foresaw this problem when he wrote in defense of America's new constitution more than 200 years ago. "Wise politicians will be cautious about fettering the government with restrictions that cannot be observed," he wrote in Federalist 25, "because they know that every breach of the fundamental laws...impairs that sacred reverence which ought to be maintained in the breast of rulers towards the constitution of a country, and forms a precedent for other breaches..." If the ban of personal firearms is so quickly breached which law will be next to fall? Religious freedom? Equal rights for women? Respect for private property?
Thus, Iraq's new constitution lays the groundwork for its own undoing. The United States is partly responsible for this folly. And for that sin we may be forced to pay again for what American blood and fortune has so recently won, simply because we helped them secure all of their rights but one.