October 14th, 2014 // 8:22 am @ Oliver DeMille
What’s Been Missed
American wars abroad are causing more problems than they solve, for one very important reason: U.S. experts who help establish new constitutions and laws in nations like Iraq and Afghanistan don’t apply the principles of the U.S. Constitution to the level that they could.
They try, but they seem to not really understand the Constitution and how it works.
As long as Washington keeps doing this, our foreign interventions—whether limited to airstrikes or focused on full-blown ground wars—are a monumental waste of time and resources.
They leave the target nations worse off and more volatile than before we intervened.
Based on the cost of these wars, and its impact on our economy and our politics, this may be the single most important issue in current U.S. society. Most people don’t realize what a big deal this is.
Whether you support or dislike the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States certainly had a chance to positively influence the entire region.
A Fatal Misunderstanding
Experts debated whether it was possible to bring more democracy to the Middle East, and Washington tried to make things better.
But we failed miserably, leaving a power vacuum and strengthening dangerous anti-freedom forces in Iran, Syria, Palestine, ISIS, Northern Africa, and the whole region.
The reason for this failure is still almost entirely misunderstood: American experts try to copy elements of the Constitution and European parliamentary structures when setting up postwar governments in occupied nations, but they apparently don’t deeply know how Constitutional principles work—or don’t want to use them.
This is akin to copying Madison’s work, but doing it in a way that Madison would never have done. Specifically, the Constitutional system worked because the framers operated on a basic set of freedom principles.
One of these is that the key to long-term freedom is to identify the main power centers in a nation. This is vital if we want to see real change in the Middle East.
Once the power centers of a nation are clearly understood, each of them needs to be given a certain kind of power by the Constitution and laws.
Specifically, such power must give the group a real say in the direction of the nation, formatted so that all major power groups are represented and have the ability to check and balance each other.
The Important Separations
In most nations the best format is to divide the natural powers of government (legislative, executive, and judicial) as three of the great power centers, and then to give a legislative house to each of the major societal powers.
For example, in aristocratic Britain the two strongest natural power centers were the upper class with all its wealth and influence, and the lower classes with their huge numbers and power of labor.
This led to the House of Lords and the House of Commons, a system that gave the two biggest powers in the nation a real say in government, but simultaneously kept them both checked and balanced.
In the United States, with a less aristocratic and more commercial focus, the three major power centers were the individual states, the rich class, and the working middle class.
The founding fathers wisely structured the Constitution in a way that all three of these groups had great power but with checks and balances on each. The Senate naturally represented the wealthy class, the House was elected by the working middle class, and the states were given huge powers—even more than the federal government.
This is the Constitutional format, and it is very effective. When the major natural powers in a nation are all given a real place in the government, and all operate under checks and balances, it brings out the best in each power group and the whole nation can flourish.
The U.S. applied this principle after World War II in the two major occupied areas—Germany and Japan. In Germany, with an aristocratic model similar to Britain, the experts created an upper house to represent the aristos and a lower house to represent the common people.
A Working System
Japan presented a different model, because it was historically a monarchy run by just a few ruling families—much more like an oligarchy than a European aristocracy.
U.S. experts wisely set up Japan’s government in a way that the monarchy was disbanded but the same top ruling families were allowed to retain their power through the banking system and its close interconnection with the government.
This shifted their focus from military empire to economic growth—creating the modern Japanese economic “miracle.” Of course, this isn’t miraculous to anyone who understands Constitutional principles.
A few years later the U.S. followed a similar “Asian” approach by applying Constitutional systems in South Korea.
In all these cases, “democracy” worked—even in formerly totalitarian nations—because the American experts knew how to create constitutions that brought together all the major powers in a nation and make them part of the leadership (while at the same time ensuring that they were balanced and checked).
This would work in the Middle East as well, if only we used it.
During the Cold War, however, Washington’s approach changed. The focus turned to gaining allies against the threat of communism, and experts put their attention to international treaties, international law, and international organizations rather than good, old-fashioned freedom principles applied at every level in a nation. Schools followed this shift, and true Constitutional expertise went into decline.
After 9/11, as the U.S. fought and gained incredible influence over Iraq and Afghanistan, a new generation of experts—trained in the new way—tried to create constitutional models in these nations based on a shallow understanding of how freedom works.
In both cases, U.S. experts basically tried to copy U.S. and European institutions. They rightly gave power to legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, but they missed the opportunity to actually bring Constitutional freedoms to these nations.
Specifically, they acted as if the major power centers in Iraq and Afghanistan are the same as the U.S. (the rich versus the working class) or Europe (the aristocracy versus the commons). But they aren’t.
The major power centers in Iraq are Shia and Sunni, and they have been at war for centuries.
Thus, setting up a government with separate branches and constitutional checks and balances but leaving the two major natural power centers in the nation out of the government guarantees that their conflicts will have to be settled by violence—not constitutionally by elections, debates, check and balances, courts, or negotiations.
The U.S. experts acted as if the work of the American framers should be copied for everyone, not emulated in the way Madison of Jefferson would have structured an Iraqi system.
This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution. We seem to have lost any real Constitutional expertise—at least in Washington.
Constitutional Law is now mostly a matter of memorizing cases, legal history, and the interplay between three branches of government, rather than really understanding the principles of freedom that the founding fathers taught.
A Real Fix
A Jefferson-Madison approach to Iraq would create a 3-branch government (legislative, executive, judicial) with three houses in the legislature: a House of Sunni, House of Shia, and a house popularly elected by small local districts across the whole nation.The third house would naturally represent the lower classes and also empower the Kurds and other minorities.
If U.S. experts had done this in 2005 (or 1992), Al Quada would have had no influence in Iraq and ISIS would have almost no followers today—at least not in Iraq and most likely not in Syria. Iraq would be a powerful, wealthy democratic republic in the heart of the Middle East.
It would of course have its share of problems, but the challenges would be more like those faced by early democratic epochs experienced in Canada, France, Japan (after 1946), South Korea (after 1950) and Australia.
Some might argue that this is impossible, because the Sunni/Shia conflict is inherently violent, but history shows a different story: Middle East conflicts are no more violence-prone than feudal Japan, the bloody European Catholic/Protestant wars, or the cruel Roman, Mongol, or Aztec empires.
These all spread violence for many centuries, and the violence only ended when these cultures adopted better constitutions.
Jefferson-Madison principles would take a very different route in Afghanistan by putting a small emphasis on the national constitution and focusing on helping tribal regions and cities create strong self-governing structures.
Only outsiders see Afghanistan as a nation; the Afghani people don’t consider themselves part of Afghanistan but part of their local tribal or regional culture.
Afghanistan needs several dozen constitutions—for each real national area. And each needs to identify the main power centers in the area and make them part of the government (with adequate checks, as always). Nothing else will work.
Madison and Jefferson would never have made such obvious mistakes in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even the U.S. experts of 1945 would have taken a very different, more constitutional approach. But today’s experts are apparently more expert on internationalism than freedom.
They seek to create constitutions that fit Washington’s international agendas rather than actually help Iraq and Afghanistan create free and prosperous systems that work.
This is a major problem because the result will be increased conflicts and wars in the Middle East. In the decades ahead, we seem destined to shed a lot more American blood in the region—without fixing much of anything.
Note that both parties are to blame: Republicans have attempted to nation build but have done it shallowly and poorly as described above, ensuring worse problems in the very regions they’ve tried to help, and Democrats have decried “nation building” but continued bombing and increased drone strikes without any clear strategy or plan for improved self-governing constitutional structures. This accomplishes nothing good.
What We Need
America’s loss of Constitutional understanding is a growing disaster, not just in the U.S. but around the world. We need to change. The U.S. must either stop bombing and leave nations to their own wisdom and struggles, or we need to actually apply real principles of freedom.
But to apply such principles, we first need to understand them. Being ruled by many thousands of U.S. federal and state government officials who either haven’t read the Federalist Papers or don’t understand them (or don’t like them) is causing major American decline.
And unless something changes, it’s going to get worse—for freedom-loving people in America as well as the Middle East. Nothing is getting fixed in the Middle East, and it won’t get fixed until actual freedom is applied.
To top off this challenge, as we become weaker and weaker in this current era of American decline, China and Russia are waiting in the wings.
The solution is simple, however. We need a new group of dedicated people who pay the price to truly understand the principles of the Constitution—and know how to apply them to any people and nation genuinely seeking freedom.
(More on this topic is contained in the upcoming book by Oliver DeMille, entitled The U.S. Constitution and the 196 Principles of Freedom: How to Write Constitutions in the 21st Century. It will be available for Christmas 2014.)
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah