WASHINGTON -- Iraq in the throes of rebirth is a reminder that political science is a science of single instances, which means it is not a science. The fact that almost every large political event is unique and unrepeatable is not news to Condoleezza Rice, a Stanford political scientist before becoming the president's national security adviser.
Still, last week, when considering the task of reconstituting Iraq, she said she was heartened by the fact that her scholarship taught her this: Democratic institutions do not just spring from a hospitable culture, they also can help create such a culture. They did in America and, she is confident, they will in Iraq. They will, she says with a steely serenity, with the help of an America that has no choice but to succeed, and has a staying power that is frequently underestimated.
Rice's comparison last month of America's troubles in occupied Iraq and those in Germany in 1945 were intended to make this point: You cannot tell after three months of an occupation how things will turn out. The Marshall Plan, she reminds, was a response to Europe's humanitarian and economic crisis three years after the war ended. That plan expressed the belief that if great-power wars were to end, there must be a different kind of Germany -- and Japan.
Reconstituting Iraq is in some ways more difficult than the tasks America took up in 1945. Both Germany and Japan had been rendered almost clean slates, politically -- thoroughly defeated by protracted war, their old elites had been destroyed. And as Henry Kissinger remembers, the obedience of Germans in the American, British and French occupation zones was encouraged by the example of the terrible alternative -- the Soviet zone.
Those who in 1991 favored going beyond the liberation of Kuwait to the capture of Baghdad cheerfully foresaw a ``MacArthur regency'' for Iraq akin to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's governance of Japan in 1945. But who would have played MacArthur?
In ``American Caesar,'' biographer William Manchester noted that MacArthur had lived in the Orient for decades, ``had studied Nipponese folklore, politics and economy; most of all he had pondered how (Emperor) Hirohito's people lived, worked and thought.'' When Hirohito suddenly repudiated what he called ``the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese are superior to other races and fated to rule the world'' -- the myth for which 1.3 million soldiers and 672,000 civilians had died -- this created, MacArthur said, ``a complete vacuum, morally, mentally and physically.'' Apathy reigned.
Apathy is not the primary problem in Iraq. Rice wonders: What would it have been like reconstituting Germany and Japan in today's media environment, on a daily news cycle?
One might add: or with Iraq's kind of violence, which neither occupied Germany nor Japan knew in 1945.
The bombing of the Shiite shrine in Najaf seemed intended to incite civil war, and not one analogous to the English, American and Spanish civil wars. Those were relatively tidy, two-sided conflicts -- king against parliament, North against South, rebels against loyalists. An Iraqi civil war would be more like Hobbes' state of nature, a ``war of everyone against everyone.'' Think of Lebanon, 1979-1990.
Rice briskly dismisses that possibility. Iraq is, she says, ``a media society.'' Today it has 186 newspapers, 26 radio stations, and 27 television stations, and satellite dishes are proliferating. The literacy rate among those 15 or older is 40 percent. Iraq, says Rice, is porous to information about models of modernity beyond the Arab world, models that will inform Iraq's coming constitutional convention.
Fine, but it was astonishing that America in 1787 even contained the 55 men who attended the Philadelphia convention, and even more astonishing that it gathered those 55 in Philadelphia. The administration expects Iraqis to find their James Madison.
How long will it take to make Iraq into a Middle Eastern example, with the power to encourage regional transformation? Rice speaks of a ``generational'' commitment to Iraq. There is not today a visible Iraqi majority that the remaining minority of Iraqis would consent to be governed by.
But Rice believes that Iraq has more of a national identity than it is commonly given credit for. Granted, its regional differences largely coincide with creedal differences. But this, Rice believes, actually can facilitate national cohesion under loose central authority, at least in the short run.
All societies' reverberate with what G.K. Chesterton called ``the thunder of the authority of human habit.'' Some lethal Iraqi habits are now being heard from, thunderously. However, Rice remains confident that Iraq can be the thin end of democracy's wedge in the Arab world.