June 23, 2004


This is a really extraordinary moment. Millions, billions, trillions? of words have been written over the course of human history but the following essay from the Guardian may well be the most idiotic assemblage of them ever recorded, The struggle for sovereignty: Democracy in Europe grew out of popular action against unrepresentative rule; the resistance in Iraq is part of the same story (Karma Nabulsi, June 23, 2004, The Guardian)

The United States and Britain claim to be handing sovereignty to Iraq next week. In fact, the occupying power cannot legally transfer sovereignty on June 30 for one simple reason: it does not possess it. Sovereignty is vested in the Iraqi people, and always has been: before Saddam Hussein, after him, under the martial law of the American proconsul Paul Bremer today.

This fact is reflected in the language of the most recent UN resolution - 1546, on June 8 - as well as previous ones, all of which "reaffirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq". The constant need of George Bush and Tony Blair to claim sovereignty reflects more than a misunderstanding of the laws of war and basic international law. It demonstrates an alarming ignorance of the democratic structures of the very countries they were elected to represent. This ignorance also provides us with some clues as to why they have no understanding either of what they are doing in Iraq, or what is happening on the ground there.

When the formal apparatus of a state crumbles during invasion and occupation, and authority is exercised by a foreign military power, sovereignty returns to its bearers, a country's citizens. Sovereignty is vested in the people, and not in the apparatus of state. This is the fundamental principle from which modern democracies draw their legitimacy, and the basis for all representative government. It is also the cornerstone of modern international law. [...]

The young men who defended Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank and Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, and who recently won back the Iraqi cities of Falluja and Najaf from the occupying power, are not the terrorists - or the enemies of democracy. They are our own past torchbearers, the founding citizens of popular sovereignty and democratic practice, the very tradition that freed Europe and that we honoured on D-day.

It would be sufficiently moronic were Ms Nabulsi only asserting that international law requires democracy before a state is recognized as sovereign, something which it ought to do, but does no currently--as witness the UN's recognition of any number of totalitarian regimes as sovereign, including Saddam's own. The Third Restatement of Foreign Relations Law of the United States Sect. 201 (1987) defines a state thus: “…an entity which has a defined territory and permanent population, under the control of its own government, and which engages in, or has the capacity to engage in, formal relations with other such entities.” By this unfortunate standard it is obvious that Saddam had sovereignty over Iraq until we seized it from him.

Remarkably though, Ms Nabulsi tops this idiocy by arguing that the thugs who are trying to prevent the transfer of sovereignty to a representative government in Iraq are fighting for democracy.

But wait, these are only the affirmative assertions she makes that are obviously wrong--unbeknownst to her she's done something even more mindnumbingly stupid: in an essay where she seeks to attack Tony Blair and George Bush and to support the Ba'ath Party remnants, disgruntled al-Sadrites, and al Qaeda terrorists who are trying to destabilize Iraq, she has instead made the moral argument in favor of the war. The revolution that America and Britain are jointly effecting in foreign affairs--from Grenada to Panama to Kosovo to Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond--has led to the point where the democratic nations of the world need not recognize the sovereignty of any state which is not itself a liberal democracy. The mere fact that Saddam Hussein oppressed his own people is, as her essay suggests it should be, reason enough for us to have deposed him and restored sovereignty to the Iraqi masses. In effect, the test of a state is no longer the capacity of its government to exercise power but the legitimacy of its rule. At the End of History, that legitimacy depends on the government being chosen by and representing the interests of the people. Regimes that aren't legitimate and organizations that oppose democracy are fair game. The torchbearers remain--by her own standards, properly applied--we who fought against Saddam and who are fighting against those who resist the coming of democracy.

As for Ms Nabulsi, she should probably retire and rest on her laurels--she'll never top this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 23, 2004 6:27 PM

Not a comment really, just thought I'd say that I appreciate the efforts you guys make on this site, I visit several times a week.

Posted by: Raymond at June 23, 2004 6:31 PM

You are obviously in a state of epistemological sin by expecting logical consistency. As Steven Den Beste has said:
"Contradictions don't matter, of course; "logic" is local (the term actually used, I gather, is "situated"). Logic is a tool created by White Men to oppress everyone else in the world. If someone (usually a White Man, please note) tries to claim that an argument in favor of the right lessons doesn't make sense because it is logically inconsistent and because it draws conclusions which are not logically justified by its premises and reasoning, then that's just another demonstration of the way logic is used as a tool of oppression. There are a lot of kinds of logic, and when someone (usually a White Man, please note) claims that Western-style sentential logic is universally applicable and universally valid, it shows that he is multi-culturally insensitive."

Posted by: jd watson at June 23, 2004 8:42 PM

"who recently won back the Iraqi cities of Fallujaj and Najaf":

Whatever the author's smoking, I want some.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at June 23, 2004 9:24 PM

OJ: You just quoted the Restatement (Third). I am in shock.

Posted by: Chris at June 23, 2004 9:38 PM

By the way, the Restatement, along with the ALI and all the Uniform Laws, are evil. Evil, evil, evil. And bad.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 23, 2004 10:13 PM


And entirely accurate statements of establishment opinion, no?

Posted by: oj at June 23, 2004 10:47 PM

...but the following essay from the Guardian may well be the most idiotic assemblage of them ever recorded...

It's actually a lot of fun playing "Can You Top This?" with the Guardian. There's always loads of material from which to choose. Always fresh. Always entertaining.

Here's my choice of the day.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 24, 2004 1:58 AM

OJ: Fair enough. But I note that David left out an "evil."

Posted by: Chris at June 24, 2004 10:45 AM

I'd like to have popular self-government as the standard, too, but you can't. Who's to say what's really popular? When do secession movements attain legitimacy?

It's like being against aggression. Of course we are, but we cannot define it.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2004 7:19 PM


I'm pro-aggression. Whoever can proclaim & maintain one gets to be a state.

Posted by: oj at June 24, 2004 7:56 PM

Bad news for the Poles, most of the time.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2004 10:45 PM

Harry: You Haoles best be turning Hawaii over to its rightfull owners and heading back to whence you came.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 25, 2004 12:21 AM

Too much interbreeding for that now, although the point would have been valid up to, say, 1920 or so.

The Hawaiians do have a shadow state, and -- Orrin would love this -- it's a constitutional monarchy. Or monarchies.

I personally know three kings and two queens of Hawaii, and there are several others I haven't met.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 25, 2004 6:40 PM