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  Baghdad isn't Tokyo, or Philadelphia, or Bonn

FOREIGN POLICY ANALYSIS:

Baghdad isn’t Tokyo, or Philadelphia, or Bonn

by John Hickman

The squabbling over oil revenues and the role of Islamic law in Baghdad bears no resemblance to the process that produced the Japanese constitution.
If the experience of George W. Bush is any guide, finding the right historical analogy to rally support for a failing foreign policy is no easy matter. During his August 30th speech commemorating the 60th Anniversary of V-J Day at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego the President argued that the Iraq War and Occupation were comparable to the Second World War in the Pacific theatre and post-war Occupation of Japan. Bush drew parallels between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, between 9/11 hijackers and Kamikaze pilots, and between the American Occupation Reforms in Japan and the contemporary American attempt to democratize Iraq.

The obvious problem with this historical analogy (or almost everything else tthat the White House says about its Iraqi Quagmire) is that only the obtuse and the mendacious still assert that the 9/11 hijackers were sponsored Saddam Hussein’s secular Baathist government in Iraq. However, there are other, less well known differences between the situations in Occupied Japan and Occupied Iraq that expose its silliness. One difference is that after the formal surrender of Japan in 1945 most Japanese bureaucrats remained at their posts and continued to conduct the civil administration of government. Japan didn’t descend into anarchy. However, when the American military entered Baghdad, most Iraqi bureaucrats disappeared and the country quickly descended into an anarchy from which it has yet to recover. Another difference is that the post-war Peace Constitution of Japan was actually written by Americans and not by Japanese. A group of young New Deal Democratic lawyers working for the US Occupation wrote the original draft in English. The Japanese role in the process consisted largely of translating the document from English to Japanese and agreeing to its contents. The result was a document giving Japan a half century of peace, freedom and prosperity. The squabbling over oil revenues and the role of Islamic law in Baghdad bears no resemblance to the process that produced the Japanese constitution.

A mere 46 hours before the San Diego speech, Bush was using a radically different historical analogy to justify the mess his administration was producing in Iraq. In his August 28th speech from Crawford, Texas, the President compared the thuggish theocrats holed up in Baghdad’s Green Zone who were charged with writing a draft constitution for Iraq with the Framers of the United States Constitution. “I want our folks to remember our own constitution was not unanimously received,” said America’s least intellectual modern president. “Some delegates at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 refused to sign it, and the draft was vigorously debated in every state, and the outcome was not assured until all the votes were counted.” This analogy is even thinner than the previous. The newly independent United States hadn’t been freed from an American dictator, a French army wasn’t guarding the Framers from insurgent Royalists in control of a third of the country, and French King Louis XVI hadn’t given the Framers a deadline to write something to show the French people to prove the war was worth the cost. But then, Bush didn’t mention the French at all.

Almost exactly one year before the San Diego speech, during the 2004 Republican National Convention, Bush was deploying yet a different historical analogy. In his September 2nd speech he compared contemporary Iraq to Germany after the Second World War. “America has done this kind of work before,” said Bush in dismissing doubters and then went on to compare himself to President Harry Truman. “Fortunately we had a resolute president named Truman, who with the American people persevered, knowing that a new democracy at the center of Europe would lead to stability and peace.” Unfortunately for Bush the “contemporary Iraq equals post-war Germany” historical analogy suffers from the same problems as “contemporary Iraq equals post-war Japan.” Unlike Iraq, both Germany and Japan were modern industrial societies with functioning bureaucracies capable of reconstructing basic infrastructure. Unlike Iraq, neither Germany nor Japan was divided by intractable religious and ethno-linguistic hatreds. Unlike Iraq, neither Germany nor Japan was the scene of a determined insurgency. Part of the reason for that is that unlike most ordinary Iraqis today, many Germans and Japanese in the late 1940s could remember a period of liberal democratic rule in their countries. Finally, the second Bush administration isn’t the Truman administration. The disastrous occupation of Iraq was “planned” by Bush’s myopic neoconservative political appointees. The successful occupations of Germany and Japan were planned by pragmatic New Deal liberals in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. America has done this kind of work before, but Bush and company weren’t in charge.

George W. Bush’s real problem with historical analogies is that none fits the War in Iraq better than the War in Vietnam. Parallels too numerous to mention can be drawn between the two wars, and no amount of cheap military patriotism is going to make the baby boomer generation ignore them.

George W. Bush’s real problem with historical analogies is that none fits the War in Iraq better than the War in Vietnam. Parallels too numerous to mention can be drawn between the two wars, and no amount of cheap military patriotism is going to make the baby boomer generation ignore them. Popular collective memories of the Vietnam War are certainly flawed in some respects, but they are still sharper and more meaningful than any history lessons Bush has to offer.


John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at jhickman@berry.edu.


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This story was published on September 2, 2005.

 
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