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Saturday, December 06, 2003


As readers of LI know, we think there�s a lot of bull in the analogies between the occupation of Iraq and anything that occurred after World War II that are put about in the media sphere, promoted by Bush�s apologists. The confused idea that Iraqi resistance is equivalent to the German resistance after the American occupation, which was expressed by Donald Rumsfeld, is peculiarly insane. Bush�s Rush Limbaugh equivalent on the Internet, Instapundit, has taken to higgledy-pigglety references to WWII, calling the bloodshed in November �The Battle of the Bulge� (which, of course, means we are fighting WWII backwards in Insta�s opinion. Soon we will be inching up the Italian peninsula, then invading North Africa, and then comes the Battle of Britain).

However, we�ve been reading a book about Japan (Japan, a reinterpretation) by Patrick Smith that richly evokes certain American policies in Iraq, and we do see analogies � or rather, continuities in the way the U.S. foreign policy establishment does business. Smith is a revisionist � disagreeing with the old school of Japanese interpreters, or as he calls them, the Chrysanthemum Club, that was headed by Edwin Reischauer, and dedicated to the proposition that Japan, after the American occupation, was another anti-communist free market democracy in the service of the free world. Smith records two stages in the early occupation. The first, which involved the writing of the Japanese constitution, was heralded by its organizer, General MacArthur, as a new and revolutionary stage in the �normalization� of Japan. Others have doubted the �newness� of the constitution, since it seemed to incorporate large parts of the older Japanese constitution of 1889 and 1890. What the MacArthur constitution did do, however, was break decisively with the military structure of Japan. This was felt as a liberation. And this was why the sense of opening was crushed when the Americans went back on their own constitutional suggestions � that is, when they started to treat Japan as, in the words of one Japanese prime minister, a huge aircraft carrier. The security treaty signed with the U.S. in 1951, and the American demand that Japan field a military or support the American one, was part of what Smith labels (from, apparently, a common Japanese phrase) the �reverse course.� The reverse course stopped the war crimes trials, for instance. The set of Japanese officials accused of war crimes were released in 1948 without trial. One of these alleged war criminals, a high official in the Imperial Japanese Empire, became a figurehead for the interlocking groups of fascists, big businessmen, criminal gangs and rightwingers and was �elected� Prime Minister in Nobusuke Kishi, who was an enthusiastic American ally.

Smith�s is a sad story, because the strangling of the democratic impulse in Japan, and the reinforcement of the corporationist capitalism that dominated the post-war scene, resulted in an increasingly rigid and unsupportable system � one that has been crumbling ever since the end of the Cold War.

There are similarities, here, to what is happening in Iraq � although the forces at play are so different that we doubt the outcome will be similar. The American scheme has been, and still seems to be, putting an exile group at the head of Iraq, radically privatizing its wealth, and then internationalizing it. To do this, the Americans seem to have believed that they could use Iraqi good will � that, indeed, Iraqis, like the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, would find such a win-win proposition so scrumptious that G.O.P. lobbyists would soon be on the hustings in Basra, collecting a majority of votes from the adoring electorate. After all, this is what happened in Mississippi.

This hasn�t happened. You might have noticed.

The pull back from the exile groups has been partial � D.C. has definitely not given up on making Chalabi its Kishi. But, most depressingly, instead of adapting to the evident unenthusiasm, indeed repulsion, for the American model of Iraq (no doubt made out of sugarcubes deep in some Pentagon cachot), the Coalition Authority and D.C. are still trying to ignore it. The latest news about the refusal of Bremer�s dictatoriate to countenance elections is a farcical proof of same. Why has Bremer opposed elections? Because there isn�t a census that would allow a clean election. Why isn�t there a census? Because Bremer opposes taking a census until after the American authorities appoint various local councils to appoint higher councils to elect an American approved government that can authorize a census that the Americans approve of. As in Japan, the American idea is to create the face of democracy, and not the reality.

Here�s a graf from the NYT story, by Joel Brinkley

Iraqi census officials devised a detailed plan to count the country's entire population next summer and prepare a voter roll that would open the way to national elections in September. But American officials say they rejected the idea, and the Iraqi Governing Council members say they never saw the plan to consider it.

Worst case scenario would be something like this: because the core of the resistance seems to be solely about power, these are the kinds of people the American privatizers might be able to deal with. The exiles on the Council are using their power to enrich themselves as much as possible, but they aren�t winning over the hearts and minds of the Iraqis � which, in the privacy of their own mansions, they probably find a laughable American obsession. So who can bring the Sunni�s over? Why not the Ba�ath infrastructure, without Saddam? It would be surprising if feelers aren�t out to them already. If a full reverse course happens, make no mistake � as one man, the pro-Bush contingent in the press will discover the genius of the solution. Slap Chalabi�s face on it and, hey presto � you got a win-win deal!

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