Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman recalls this anecdote from his May 2003 plane ride into Baghdad, where he was to serve as a constitutional adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority. “Adrenaline pumping through me, I was rereading the best modern book on the Iraqi Shi’a, and hastily trying to teach myself some colloquial dialect.” Some of his colleagues were reading, too. “When I saw what they were reading, though, a chill crept over me. Not one seemed to need a refresher on Iraq or the Gulf region. Without exception, they were reading new books on the American occupation and reconstruction of Germany and Japan.”
The idea that the most relevant experience to rebuilding Iraq was the American success stories of Japan and Germany was so widespread that U.S. viceroy J. Paul Bremer reportedly kept a chart on his office wall documenting “Milestones: Iraq and Germany”, and one of his administration’s documents lifted so heavily from the Marshall Plan that in one place it forgot to change the name of the Iraqi currency from “reichsmark” to “dinar”. Then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice compared the insurgency when it erupted to the largely fictional “Werewolves”, Nazi units that ostensibly waged guerilla war against Western forces in post-war Germany.
“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” a senior Bush aide told journalist Ron Suskind in the fall of 2004. “And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors …and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. The delusional arrogance of Suskind’s Administration source was subsumed in the bloody turmoil of Iran adjusting, on the basis of its own complex history, to invasion, occupation and the power vacuum created by Saddam’s ouster. American success in Germany and Japan turned out to be irrelevant in Iraq, and the new reality created by the invasion proved to be beyond the comprehension of those who had orchestrated — precisely because they preferred to base their strategy on the belief that they could “create their own reality” rather than deal with the one they found in Iraq.