It’s sad to see articulate and intelligent, if terribly misguided, writers still trying to justify their Iraq catastrophe by claiming its no different from World War II and our decades’ long stationing of troops in Germany and Japan.
Today we have the instance of Max Boot …
I could just imagine an Andrew Sullivan of the 1940’s writing something similar about Harry Truman’s crazy idea to station troops in Germany and Japan without an exit strategy: “In fifty years’ time, the West Germans will not be able to defend themselves against the Soviet Union? Or East Germany? Please.” As it happens, the West Germans wouldn’t have been able to defend themselves against a broad array of enemies without a long-term American troop presence. That presence has served other important goals too, namely reassuring Germany’s neighbors that it would never threaten the peace of Europe again and fostering Germany’s internal democratic development. But just because we’ve had troops in Germany and Japan for 60 years-and in South Korea for more than 50 years-doesn’t mean we’re occupying those countries. We are there are the request of democratically elected governments.
I never fail to have my breath taken away by various neocons’ breezy and wholly unselfconscious claims to be the modern-day stand-ins for every revered past moment in the history of American foreign policy. Boot’s problem is that he doesn’t get Imperialism, though it’s actually a topic he’s written a great deal about. Or more particularly, he doesn’t understand why it ended. When I interviewed him in the months before the Iraq War he talked with a mix of extravagance and hypotheticalness about recolonizing various parts of the Middle East. The main point I remember was taking over the Saudi oil fields and running them under some sort of internationally-sanctioned protectorate and “administering them as a trust for the people of the region.”
But setting all those concerns aside there’s one distinction between the case of Germany and Japan and Iraq today that gets far too little mention. It’s not a matter of culture or religion. It is the fact in the aftermath of World War II, both Germany and Japan had been conquered by the United States and her allies in a wars of aggression that Germany and Japan had started. The civilian populations of each country, whatever their war guilt, had experienced shattering levels of violence and privation in the final years of the war. And both countries were immediately faced by nearby hostile powers they feared much more than the United States. There are almost countless differences between the two historical situations, either separate from these points or growing out them. But taken together, these three factors explain a great deal of why our occupation of Iraq lacks both the legitimacy and the acceptance we enjoyed in those two countries.