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Afghan founders

Afghanistan is drawing on the early lessons of the American republic

Issue: "New Orleans: Starting over," Sept. 24, 2005

More than 12 million Afghans are scheduled to vote this month in the nation's first parliamentary elections since the ouster of the Taliban by the U.S.-led coalition. Almost 6,000 candidates are seeking the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People). At least 68 of these seats must be held by women. Voters will also elect their regional councils in the country's 34 provinces. Each of these councils will have between nine and 29 members, and each council will in turn send delegates to the 102-member upper house of parliament, the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders). Another third of those delegates will be chosen by the president and the final third by district councils.

Sound familiar? Afghanistan is drawing on the early lessons of the American republic, which embraced bicameralism and the indirect election of senators. Just as Iraq is taking a page from America's longstanding commitment to federalism, Afghanistan too is borrowing from democratic traditions nurtured in America.

In this season of new democracy, and especially in light of the deep skepticism and cynicism showered on the courageous peoples of both countries by many among the Western elites, the new book 1776 by David McCullough arrives as a necessary and inspiring reminder of the perilous passage of America to its own freedom. Nothing about that march first to independence and then to the Constitution was easy or guaranteed. Mr. McCullough conveys just how close a thing the Revolutionary War was, and just how deep the awesome well of courage went among the Washingtons, Adamses, and Hancocks.

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It is the best tribute to our Founders that 228 years later, a new generation of courageous leaders is willing to run the same enormous personal risks for the same goals that the first generation of free Americans ran, and then to employ many of the same devices that the Framers relied upon to secure liberty within a representative framework.

What a compliment, and what a legacy.


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