The Pentagon's official website has a veritable cornucopia of news items on it, from press releases announcing reserve mobilizations to "news articles" on top Pentagon officials. (It also has more spin than a laundromat) One of those articles quotes Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as saying to foreign media that the toppling of Saddam's statue last week in Baghdad by U.S. Marines was like "seeing the Berlin Wall come down all over again." Mr. Wolfowitz, who's an avowed hawk on Iraq-related issues and widely regarded as the intellectual architect of Gulf War II, added that the Iraqi people had a great opportunity today in the wake of Hussein's removal.
"The people of Iraq now have it within their power to establish a constitution and a political system that will reflect their real wishes and interests," Wolfowitz said. He added that the task is the Iraqis'; the United States is just there to support their efforts.Analysis: This is a very interesting choice of metaphor by Mr. Wolfowitz. First, it should be said that the imagery itself does not quite support such an analogy. For one, the crowds near Brandenburg Gate in 1989 were far larger than in Baghdad's square last week. Also, there was no attendant looting or breakdown in law & order after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Second, the teardown of the Berlin Wall came as a relatively peaceful event -- not after any great war on Berlin. Granted, the event marked the end of the Cold War, but there's quite a big difference between a cold war and a hot one.
That said, the comparison may have much larger implications. The reunification of Germany was a massive undertaking in every sense -- politically, economically, socially, legally, and otherwise. It dragged down the former West German economy for a number of years, and required extensive foreign direct investment in the former East Germany. Despite being the crown jewel of the Warsaw Pact, East Germany's social and economic infrastructure lagged far behind that of West Germany. Though the wall's collapse was a major step forward, it heralded a great deal of work that had to be done during the 1990s to make this more than a symbolic event. Similarly, the toppling of Saddam's statues in Baghdad heralds much more than a regime change. Every aspect of Iraqi society must be rebuilt from the ground up -- for the current systems are built on the foundation of a repressive regime. Iraq has no legal system, no property system, no civil police, no public school system, and no government separate from that of Saddam Hussein. The Ba'ath Party infected every one of these institutions before the war, and they must either be cleansed or rebuilt. This promises to be a massive undertaking -- perhaps so large that even America alone cannot manage it. If the fall of the Berlin Wall is to be our historical reference, then we know we have at least 10 years of hard work ahead of us in Iraq.
Post script: German leaders are less than pleased by the comparison of Baghdad to Berlin, according to Reuters. Wolfgang Thierse, president of Germany's Parliament, thought such comparisons were historically inaccurate, and inappropriate given German opposition to this war.
"When East Germans and other Eastern Europeans knocked down the statues, the people did it by themselves and not with the troops of a victorious war participant," added Thierse, who as president of the parliament is second only to President Johannes Rau as the leading representative of Germany.