The problem is that few if any of the ingredients that made this success possible are present—or would be present—in the case of Iraq. The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned.In the case of Iraq, we had the support of none of Iraq's neighbors, and little of the rest of the world (despite the influential support of Micronesia - that might be sarcasm). In fact, Bush's infantile "Axis of Evil" reference to Iran (however apropos) probably did a little to undermine any genuine desires we had for support from the region.
It [the postwar occupation of Japan] enjoyed virtually unquestioned legitimacy—moral as well as legal— in the eyes of not merely the victors but all of Japan’s Asian neighbors and most Japanese themselves.
The reforms that were introduced in the opening year and a half or so of the [Japanese] occupation were quite stunning. They amounted to a sweeping commitment to what we now call “nation-building” — the sort of hands-on commitment that George W. Bush explicitly repudiated in his presidential campaign.While the U.S. has done some of this post-invasion, dismantling the entire Iraqi government and starting anew guaranteed a service vacuum, temporary in some areas and possibly permanent in others.
The Americans introduced in Japan a major land reform... We introduced labor laws that guaranteed the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike... We revamped both the content and structure of the educational system...
Apart from lacking the moral legitimacy and internal and global support that buttressed its occupation of Japan, the United States is not in the business of nation-building any more—just look at Afghanistan. And we certainly are not in the business of promoting radical democratic reform. Even liberal ideals are anathema in the conservative circles that shape U.S. policy today.The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, on the other hand, immediately banned the Ba'ath party and barred its members from participation in the new government; this, despite the fact that under Saddam Hussein's rule, the government was entirely Ba'ath, and therefore even those who may not have supported Hussein were required to join the party to do their jobs.
Put simply, one of the reasons the reformist agenda succeeded is that Japan was spared the type of fierce tribal, religious, and political factionalism that exists in countries like Iraq today.
But for all practical purposes the [Japanese] bureaucracy remained intact, top to bottom. And to a far greater extent than anyone really anticipated, bureaucrats and civil servants cooperated in implementing the early reformist agendas. “Democratization” of the structure and content of the educational system, to take but one example, required and received enormous input from bureaucrats and teachers at every level. The skills and education levels of the Iraqi people are substantial, but it is nonetheless difficult to imagine a comparably swift, smooth, and substantial redirection of existing administrative and institutional structures in a post-hostilities Iraq.
Japan is notoriously poor in natural resources ... the reformers—Americans and Japanese alike—had a brief breathing space in which to push their ambitious agendas without being hammered by special economic interests. Iraq, of course, with its great oil resources, will not be spared such interference.And the economic interests are in addition to the multidimensional sectarian reasons that internal and external parties have for interfering in Iraq.
Finally, a tangential but important point from the article - something which, as the world's largest exporter of weapons (including to totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia), we tend to forget:
In the name of curbing weapons of mass destruction we have embarked on a massive program of producing new arsenals of mass destruction and have announced that we may resort to first-use of nuclear weapons. We express moral repulsion and horror at the terror-bombing of civilians, and rightly so; and then an endless stream of politicians and pundits explains how this is peculiar to Islamic fundamentalists who do not value human life as we do. But “terror-bombing” has been everyone’s game since World War II.