I think the folks over at TPM Café are right: David Brooks' latest New York Times column is a real flip-flop. He has gone from celebrating the United States firm commitment to universal democratic principles to celebrating the United States firm commitment to realistic compromise with the basic social and political realities of Iraq. Gideon Rose hit the nail on the head — at least for now, the realists seem to be making Bush Administration policy, even if the President's rhetoric lags facts on the ground, or in this case, words on paper. The basic policy shift was telegraphed by a senior official (Condi? Khalizad? someone else?) in Robin Wright's Washington Post article almost two weeks ago: the United States' grand initial vision was at odds with the United States' (more limited) capabilities.
That said, I don't think Peter Galbraith's position (Brooks quotes him extensively) is all that hard to understand. He was in Iraq to advise the Kurdish leaders on the (still not agreed) constitution, and his basic bias is pro-Kurd and pro-separation. Iraq is an artificial creation of Winston Churchill – and the US should not try to hold it together at all costs.
Galbraith's quotes in the Los Angeles Times make his position pretty clear. He advised the Kurds to accept an Islamic Shi'ite south in return for a "regional" constitution. Sounds like the first step towards independence to me. If a region can write a constitution that overrides the national constitution, is it really a region?
Although Iraq's charter does not envision installing a "supreme leader" like Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, questions are already emerging about certain provisions. For example, what are the "undisputed rules" of Islam? What constitutes "contradicting?" Since alcohol is banned in the Koran, should Iraq become a dry nation? Are women required to cover their heads? Does a prison sentence for a thief contradict the Koran, which calls for amputation of the hand?
"The problem is that there are no agreements on these questions," said Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia who advised Kurdish politicians on the constitution. "It allows any cleric to make his own interpretation of the law and opens the door to a whole range of abuses."
Galbraith said the draft fell well short of the sort of democratic government the Bush administration hoped to install in Iraq. "The U.S. now has to recognize that they overthrew Saddam Hussein to replace him with a pro-Iranian state," he said.
Kurdish negotiators had objected to many of the provisions, but they eventually agreed after securing a separate provision that would allow them to draft their own regional constitution, which could override the national charter on issues such as religion and human rights, Galbraith said.