01:13 PM CDT on Sunday, September 5, 2010
The Iraq War has produced seven years of conflict and an ever-growing mountain of books. Pulitzer Prize-winner and MIT professor John W. Dowerâ€™s contribution is Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11 and Iraq, a sharply critical look at not only the execution of the Iraq War, but the thinking that led to it.
Dower finds the George W. Bush administration guilty of the crime of the â€œuse and misuse of history.â€ Immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, comparisons were drawn between Dec. 7 and Sept. 11; in the period before the Iraq invasion, the administration pointed to the â€œsuccess storyâ€ of Japanâ€™s reconstruction as proof that Iraq could be redesigned as well.
He argues that the real parallel between then and now is found in Japanâ€™s â€œstrategic imbecilityâ€ in attacking the United States. He applies the term to the Bush administrationâ€™s decision to attack Iraq, which he judges a â€œtactical success and a strategic failure.â€
In discussing the aftermath of the Iraq war, Dower trains his fire on the Bush policymakers. To him, the reconstruction of Japan after World War II offers a model for success:
â€œDiscipline, moral legitimacy, well-defined and well-articulated objectives, a clear chain of command, tolerance and flexibility in policy formulation and implementation, confidence in the ability of the state to act constructively, the ability to operate abroad free of partisan politics back home, and the existence of a stable, resilient, sophisticated civil society on the receiving end of occupation policies.â€
Dower argues that the Bush administration, while often citing the success of the Japanese experience, did little to emulate it: â€œMuch of this seemed routine and even mundane, until the absence of such attitudes and practices in occupied Iraq suddenly made them seem exceptional.â€
Dowerâ€™s well-argued and well-written book, which at times reads more like a polemic than a history, seems incomplete. At great length, for example, he describes how the United States complained about the terrorists targeting civilians while forgetting its own attacks on civilians in World War II. He fails to mention that the ends may have justified the means: The United States was trying to end a tyranny; the terrorists were trying to start one.
In describing the struggles in the Iraqi reconstruction, Dower seems unaware that the Bush administration completely changed course in 2007. Indeed, Dower, an Ivy League-trained Ph.D., fails to seriously engage another Ivy League-trained Ph.D.: Gen. David Petraeus.
The book correctly criticizes the failures of the early occupation and justifiably questions the strategic thinking of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer. Curiously, it says little about the most important figure in the entire reconstruction era. When Petraeus took command in 2007, he immediately set about to change not only the U.S. militaryâ€™s approach but its thinking.
Previously, the American strategy had been to use a â€œlight footprintâ€ and to engage in a three-way struggle to destroy both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite militias. Petraeus radically changed this. He shrewdly noted that tensions existed not only between the Sunni and Shiite communities but within them. He used a mixture of military force, financial assistance and diplomacy to build new relationships and to strengthen existing ones.
In fact, perhaps the most ironic twist in the unfolding Iraq story is that President Barack Obama has applauded Petraeus and his strategy and has now sent the same man to command in Afghanistan. Dowerâ€™s entertaining book would not have been diminished by acknowledging this turn of events.
Kasey S. Pipes wrote speeches for President George W. Bush, serves as the Norris senior fellow at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College and wrote Ikeâ€™s Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality.