In the early part of the 20th century, Japan soundly defeated Russia in battle. It was a huge blow for Russian military pride and a boon for emerging Asian nationalist movements.
But this boon soon turned to disaster as Japanese military might was unleashed against its neighbours. Following Pearl Harbour, the United States took on the Japanese military machine. After a set of military setbacks (in which ANZAC’s played a major role), the US finally dropped 2 massive atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tokyo and other Japanese cities were carpet-bombed in similar style to raids on German cities.
Japan was occupied by American troops who showed much the same disdain that US troops do today in Iraq. One can only guess how many Abu Ghraib prisons existed across Japan after the end of the Second World War.
Japanese Americans were also mistreated and were unjustly detained in much the same way as American Muslims are being detained in the name of fighting terror.
The United States was forced to spend billions of dollars on maintaining order and rebuilding Japan. The Japanese people, notwithstanding their understandable resentment toward the American troops, speared to take the American occupation as an opportunity to improve their own situation.
Within 30 years, Japan was again posing a threat to the United States and its western allies. But this was the benign threat of Japanese economic power. Japanese motor vehicle manufacturers were threatening American companies such as Ford and Chrysler. Japanese electronics and white goods were taking over American markets. Fearsome names like Hirohito were replaced with benign labels such as Toyota and Mitsubishi.
Iraqis today are facing the same situation that the Japanese people faced some 60 years ago. Iraq was a major military power, armed by its western allies. Iraq’s role in direct military conflict with Iran and Kuwait (and its indirect dabbling in Lebanon) led to its military defeat in 1990 and the imposition of crippling economic sanctions. Iraq was bombed into the Stone Age by President Bush Snr, and is now being rebuilt after a second wave of destruction by President Bush Jnr.
Like many Australians, I opposed the decision to go to war. I found Saddam Hussein extremely distasteful, but I believed the war was unnecessary. However, the war has happened and Saddam Hussein is in Iraqi custody awaiting trial. Iraqis have elected a government which is not exactly to the liking of the United States and its Coalition Of the Willing (COW).
Yet now the Iraqis have an excellent chance to milk the COW for all it is worth. American tax payers are pouring in billions of dollars into Iraq’s reconstruction. True, the private business interests of neo-Conservative politicians and apparatchiks will be direct beneficiaries. But that was the case in Japan also. And Japanese companies ended up buying out these American business interests, in many cases for a song.
Australia and other COW members now have obligations under international law to rebuild and restore order to Iraq. What COW tooketh away, it must now giveth back. And this is a golden opportunity for Iraq.
The Iraqi government know this. As do ordinary Iraqis, many of whom suffered at the hands of the brutal Ba’athist regime. Iraqis resent the continued occupation, but also see enormous potential to develop their economy. For this reason, it is not surprising to learn that the only people Iraqis hate more than the COW forces are the insurgents and criminals responsible for the killing of Margaret Hassan and the kidnapping of Douglas Wood.
Islamophobic hate mongers are attempting to create links between Iraqi Islam and the small band of (largely foreign) extremists responsible for suicide bombings that have killed more Iraqis than COW troops. Yet the new Islamist Iraqi government has been at the forefront of fighting the dissidents.
Contrary to popular opinion, Islamists are not content with blowing themselves up to reach 72 fictitious heavenly damsels. Islamist governments are more worried about making hard cash and building strong economies.
It is not only in the interests of the COW that Iraq re-build itself and become an economic and cultural powerhouse it once was. It is also in the interest of Iraqis themselves. Critics of the Iraq war and its occupation should stop carping at the sidelines and encourage Iraqis to milk this COW for all it’s worth.
(The author is a Sydney lawyer who is completing his Masters of Laws in public international law at the Australian National University.)
© Irfan Yusuf, 2005