Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Another boneheaded statement from Bush's VFW speech

Let's revisit Bush's August 22, 2007, speech at the VFW National Convention. Bush was speaking at length about some of the wars of the past in order to try to make the point that if we had "given up" in those wars and post-war periods like some people want to "give up" in Iraq, the world would be a worse place. Bush spent a lot of time talking about how Japan became a successful democracy after WW II. Bush was trying to use Japan as an analogy for Iraq and trying to use that analogy as a reason why we have to stay in Iraq. As "proof" of his argument he offered the following:
You know, the experts sometimes get it wrong. An interesting observation, one historian put it -- he said, "Had these erstwhile experts" -- he was talking about people criticizing the efforts to help Japan realize the blessings of a free society -- he said, "Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage."
There's just a slight problem with quoting this historian, namely that the historian has come out and said Bush is flat out wrong.

The historian in question is John W. Dower, a professor at MIT. On August 24, 2007, he was interviewed on "Countdown" by Allison Stewart. Here's the transcript of that segment (plus some commentary from me):
STEWART: If you look at the work of that author—you can use the Google—you would discover he would not agree with that set up. In an op-ed titled “No Comparison” written in November of 2002, historian John Dower wrote, "Does America‘s successful occupation of Japan after World War II provide a model for a constructive American role in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq? The short answer is no."

John W. Dower teaches history at MIT. His book "Embracing Defeat" won a Pulitzer Prize.

Professor Dower, thank you for being with us tonight.


STEWART: I have to give full disclosure. I did not read your entire book this afternoon. So forgive me if my questions are very basic. I understand you found the use of that quote through a journalist. Why did you become so upset? What was your initial response?

DOWER: I was surprised and distressed that the administration continues to misuse history in this way. They began using occupied Japan as a way of prepping the U.S., force the invasion of Iraq. And they‘ve continued to do so to the present day. And it is a terrible misuse of history.
(emphasis added). So, the very person whom Bush cited in support directly said he does not support Bush's argument and that Bush basically twisted his words. I am shocked! Shocked, I say! Dower then started explaining why the Japan analogy always has been and always will be bogus.
STEWART: In an interview you referred to the use of your quote to draw this historical comparison between Japan and Iraq as, quote, "really perverse," in the sense meaning the corruption of the idea. Specifically, what was corrupted or presented wrongly?

DOWER: I think what is perverse is they have continued to use occupied Japan as an apt model for Iraq and what they are doing. And, in fact, if you look carefully at what the place and the occupation of Japan after World War II, everything says this is entirely different from Iraq. Without these conditions you can‘t expect this to happen.

The occupation began in 1945. And most of the basic reforms, the great reforms, the democratic reforms were completed within the first two or three years. We‘re still today sitting at over four years, almost four and a half years into the occupation of Iraq and the country is in chaos. These models have no application. It is not history. It‘s propaganda that they‘re giving us.
(emphasis added). The Bush administration spewing propaganda? Again, I am shocked! What is even more shocking is the lame-ass explanation given by the White House regarding Dower's criticism:
STEWART: The White House has responded Mr. Bush used the quote, "to in no way endorse his view of Iraq, only his view of Japan." Do you buy that?

DOWER: Anyone's view, mine, and I think anybody who knows it, but I think anybody that knows it, and most people in Japan—the media in Japan responded very negatively also to that speech.

I would say that everything in Japan was very, very different from in Iraq and those differences are striking and if the administration had paid more attention to them, perhaps they would have not been so foolhardy in the things they did. They do not use history for illumination, but to support propaganda.
(emphasis added). First of all, the claim that Bush was not using Dower's quote as an endorsement of Bush's Iraq policy is complete crap. Why else was it included in the speech? But let's move beyond that bullshit and focus on the italicized portion of the above excerpt. In the speech Bush emphasized that we should all look at what happened in the past, and yet his administration repeatedly ignored history and cultural realities when it came to Iraq policy. Dower then gave an example which also further explained why a using post-WW II Japan as a model for Iraq is fallacious:
STEWART: An editorial you wrote in 2002 was prescient. You predicted attacks on our troops and, quote, "religious, ethnic, regional and tribal animosities likely to erupt in post-war Iraq." Why did you believe this at the time?

DOWER: I think most—many people who knew Iraq very much were pointing out to the racial, to the ethnic, to the tribal and geographic fault lines in Iraq, which were just enormous. Anyone who worked on Japan, as I do, would say what a stunning difference from Japan. There are no such fault lines in Japan. That was one of the many differences in Japan. If you went down the list, for example, and this was clear before the war.
In other words, 1) there were ethnic and tribal divisions in Iraq that would be problematical, 2) there were no such divisions in Japan, 3) all of this was known before the Iraq war, and 4) the Bush administration either ignored or disregarded these facts. I have written extensively regarding facts known before the war which clearly showed that post-Saddam Iraq was going to be a complete mess and how the Bush administration failed to integrate those facts into any decisions or planning (and decisions not to do any planning). Rather than listing all those posts, I will link to only this one, which provides a good starting point for getting into all the other posts.

Dower concluded with more details as to why the Japan analogy is bad, and he also highlighted the utter lack of planning for post-Saddam Iraq.
DOWER: World War II against Japan was a formal war with a formal surrender. The Americans moved in and the Japanese government remained completely intact from the top to the bottom, beginning with the emperor through the bureaucracy through the towns and cities and villages. The country had great social cohesion. It had a deep national history. It had very strong democratic traditions back in the 1910s and 1920s in particular, before militarism took hold.

If you sat with people from the Middle East, who really were looking seriously at it, it was clear, they were all saying none of this is present in Iraq. None of what was present in Japan is present in Iraq. And then if you go beyond this to other differences, one of the stunning differences is the Americans began planning for the occupation of Japan in 1942.

STEWART: So the planning alone is enough?

DOWER: So the planning alone—and it was taken seriously. When they arrived in Japan, they had plans and a very charismatic leader, General Douglas MacArthur. And he announced them clearly and swiftly and they were a very competent occupation regime. So there was a competence there which added to their sense of legitimacy.
Planning for the occupation of Japan started approximately three years ahead of time. In essence, any planning for post-war Iraq began mere weeks before the war started. Actually, as has been detailed before, the State Department had been doing such planning for about 18 months, but the Bush administration shut down that planning and refused to use any of it. Then when Gen. Jay Garner (ret.) was put in charge of the group that was supposed to be responsible of the occupation/reconstruction, the Bush administration gave him no resources or help. In Japan, a thorough plan was in place. The organization was in place. The policies and goals were clearly defined. None of that was done with Iraq. And when all the "fault lines" and other Iraq realities are added to the mix, there is no way that post-WW II Japan can serve as any kind of model for Iraq or as any kind of justification for "staying the course" in Iraq.

And despite all of that, Bush deliberately used post-WW II Japan in such manner, and he wrongfully and knowingly tried to use someone else's words to that end.

Coming up...more about Bush's WW II references.


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