A Teachable Moment
By Daryl L.Hunter


Iraq’s parliament has just elected Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, President and Mahmoud al-Mashhadani a Sunni as speaker, Talabani's named Shi'ite Jawad al-Maliki as prime minister. The move ends months of political deadlock among Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds, which threatened to drag the nation into full-scale civil war.

Iraq is providing us with a “teachable moment”. Such times are current events that provide illustrative anecdotal examples that open a window to the past; in turn this history brings perspective to a current event. Science author, Michael Bentley Ed.D. wrote: “Seizing teachable moments "means producing a lesson on the spot in response to a question, an expressed student interest, or a news story.” Iraq’s unfolding events opens a window to our past if we make the effort to look through it.

The success of America's democracy seems to us today as almost inevitable. However in 1783 success didn't seem so obvious or assured. Our founders faced many challenges, our original governing document, the Articles of Confederation, agreed to by Congress November 15, 1777 became operative on March 1, 1781 when the last of the 13 states signed on to the document. The Articles of Confederation had many shortcomings.

The time between adoption of the Articles of Confederation and the drafting of the new Constitution in 1787 was a period of weakness, dissension and turmoil. No provisions had been made for an executive branch of government or court system. A legislative congress was the sole entity of the fledgling government. It could declare war and raise an army, but it could not force any state to supply troops or arms. It was dependent on the states for the income needed to finance its obligations, yet it could not punish a state for not contributing. The result was chaos. Without the power to collect taxes, the federal government plunged into debt.

In 1783 a planned military coup was defused only by the personal intervention of General George Washington, Congress was also ran out of Philadelphia by angry veterans demanding back pay for their service, Congress stayed on the run for six months. There were many states rights issues between the mercantile north and the agrarian south that threatened to break apart the aspiring democracy. The Loyalists (British supporters) who were opposed to independence had to be reconciled with America's new democracy. Shay’s Rebellion, a militant outbreak of populism attacked lawyers and courts, and intimidated legislators, Loyalist Reverend Mather Byles mused, "Which is better - to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?" Democracy to some was perceived as mob rule. More work had to be done to shore up this union.

The Constitutional Convention was convened in 1787 to address these problems, the delegates were divided on many issues, but most of all on power: Who should have it, and how much should they have? Just as today some delegates wanted the states to be strong; others were for a strong national government. On June 28, 1787 Benjamin Franklin observing the exponential growth of excessive acrimony among the delegates suggested "hence forth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business." It took years of debate and compromise before they ratified the Constitution in 1789, then only under condition of ratification of the Bill of Rights, the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791,15 years after the Declaration of Independence. Some bugs still needed to be worked out and in 1861 it took a four-year civil war, and a century of struggle after that, before the promise of our Declaration was extended to all of America.

Our “teachable moment” teaches us it is important to keep history in mind as we look at the progress of freedom and democracy in Iraq. No nation in history has made the transition to a free society without facing challenges, setbacks and near failures. It is unreasonable to think that Iraq doesn’t have the complex challenges, dichotomies, conundrums, and paradoxes to sort through in her quest for autonomy as we did.

We need to recognize that freedom movements can create a vacuum and to help young democracies succeed we must be mindful of who fills inevitable vacuums. In a recent letter intercepted letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri's to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi he outlined among other things, the second stage of al Qaeda's plan for Iraq, al-Zawahir states: “To establish an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate (Islamic leaders fiefdom) over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq, i.e., in Sunni areas, is in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void, whether those whom the Americans will leave behind them, or those among the un-Islamic forces who will try to jump at taking power.”

It is the hope of every teacher that a lessoned is learned. During the Vietnam war the media’s incessant brow beating verbally emasculated our leaders robbing them of the tools they needed for bold, decisive leadership to win the war, this prolonged the war, fueled the anti war movement that gave our enemies the strength to hang on till we lost our will, we left a job unfinished, caused a vacuum and millions died in the aftermath, did we learn anything? If we had fought decisively and stood four square behind South Vietnam it may have become an economic powerhouse, as did the 11th largest economy of the world, South Korea.

A short time ago, Iraq was under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, today Iraq is a sovereign fledgling democracy, has held free elections, drafted and ratified a constitution by national referendum. There are those that say, democracy will never work in Iraq, Mideasterners are incapable of democracy (Oh ­ except for Turkey) they point to the insurgency and chaos, they wonder why we have to help them? Would they also condemn the French for helping us during our revolutionary war?

 

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