Unlike our efforts in Lebanon and Somalia, our engagement in Iraq is not primarily motivated by humanitarian impulses (though it has obvious humanitarian dividends). We are engaged in Iraq because it was one of the chief terror sponsors in the world. President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines has said that "the Iraqi regime was supporting terrorist cells all over the world. We had to expel three Iraqi diplomats from the Philippines because of evidence that they were either in touch with Abu Sayyaf or doing their own espionage."
As the daily headlines make clear, the task is not going to be easy. Historian Douglas Porch, writing in The National Interest, argues that the occupation of Japan and Germany didn't go swimmingly, either. "American occupiers assumed that, once the virus of authoritarian rule had been purged, grateful Japanese and Germans would enthusiastically embrace democracy. Instead, U.S. reformers encountered torpor, resentment and resistance."
The de-Nazification process, now recalled as a stunning success, was perceived at the time as a failure because it created a "community of fate" between the lowest Nazi functionary and the Gestapo. And Konrad Adenauer complained that if he followed U.S. guidelines, only Germans over 65 and those under 20 would have qualified for government service.
Porch believes that the existence of a common enemy, the Soviet Union, drove the Japanese and Germans gratefully under the American wing. But as he himself acknowledges, it was more than that. In Japan, officeholders agreed to adopt MacArthur's program, including "land and labor reform, decentralization of the police, female suffrage, education and judicial reform, and a new constitution," while secretly planning to repeal them. But the Japanese people became quite attached to their new freedoms and declined to relinquish them.
There is no democratic tradition in Iraq or anywhere else in the Arab world on which to draw. Theirs is a society permeated by lies and deception, and a religion that is dancing with extremism. These are not good candidates for democracy, and Iraq is never going to be Indiana. But if, in 20 years, it looks more like Turkey than like Syria, Iraqis and the rest of the world, not least the United States, will be far, far safer.