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Bring C-SPAN to Iraq

If reconstruction is to succeed in Iraq, Iraqis need a mature, responsible media establishment.

7:30 AM, Aug 13, 2003 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
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UNLESS WE WANT Al Jazeera to be the principal media influence on the new political culture of Iraq, the U.S. occupation needs to find its voice.

In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post last week, Cold War elder statesman Max Kampelman faulted the U.S. occupation for failing to use television and radio to best effect. We should have been explaining U.S. objectives to the people of Iraq on a daily basis, Kampelman said, and reminding them that we intend to leave as soon as they are "assured of democracy, safety, and human dignity."

That's water under the bridge. But it's not too late to get the next phase right. Yesterday's announcement of an Iraqi committee to draw up procedures for drafting a constitution should usher in intensive U.S. programming designed to help prepare Iraqis for the choices and compromises ahead.

It's possible that the next vote Iraqis cast will be for a constituent assembly. If so, now is the time for discussion--in print, on television, and especially on radio, which has the widest audience--of the core issues in making a democratic constitution. This should start with elementary concepts like majority rule and individual rights, the independence of judges, the dispersal of power, religious freedom, and the role of political parties in structuring choices. The discussants should include learned men and women who have reflected deeply on these matters, but also people with a practical role in society--school principals, merchants, newspaper editors, engineers, imams--and the man and woman in the street. Here are a few ideas:

*The Baghdad Boys: This hour-a-day show would feature a couple of engaging Iraqi hosts with contrasting backgrounds and views, a sophisticated grasp of the issues at stake, and the ability to conduct respectful interviews with guests of many persuasions. (How about rushing a few promising young Iraqis over to do internships with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb?) The format would be flexible, but whether the hosts appeared together or singly, they would become familiar to the public at large. The goal would be to expose Iraqis to a cross-section of their countrymen, and to air many responsible points of view about how the principles of democracy should shape the future government.

*Democracy in America: This show, airing several times a week, would interview historians, political scientists, journalists, politicians, and others about the American experience. It would expose Iraqis to the story of our founding, the Constitution that emerged from it, and aspects of its later evolution that seem pertinent to the Iraqi situation. This show might alternate with another,

*Democracy in the World: Using carefully selected case studies, this series of conversations with experts would show listeners how different peoples have fashioned democratic arrangements consonant with their cultures.

*New Iraq Roundtable: Get the infrastructure in place for call-in shows and let Iraqi men and women hear each other speak.

Kanan Makiya may be the person in this country who has written most and best about the transition to democracy in Iraq. In the current Journal of Democracy, for example, he notes that there is no literature in Arabic on the subject of federalism, much less any Arab experience with federalism. Iraqi political intellectuals are discussing the subject among themselves, but the future voters of Iraq need to be let in on the conversation.

Makiya writes that to truly liberate themselves from the burden their past, Iraqis must focus "all the creative energies of the country on reconstruction and cultural renewal." Rebuilding their government on a new footing is the make-or-break job at hand. American broadcasting should provide food for thought to the Iraqis shouldering that task.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.