SWEETS AND FLOWERS….We’re all aware that back in 2003 pro-war hawks were largely convinced that Iraq would be, as Ken Adelman put it, a “cakewalk.” We’d be greeted as liberators, crowds would throw sweets and flowers at us, and we’d quickly turn the country over to a few handpicked exiles and then leave in triumph.
And yet, despite plenty of evidence that the hawks really believed this fantasy, it’s still hard to believe that they really believed this fantasy. Were they truly this far out of touch with reality?
Answer: Yes they were, and sometimes it’s the smallest anecdotes that are the most telling on this score. Here’s a very small one from George Packer’s Assassins’ Gate. It takes place in July 2003, just before the author’s first trip to postwar Iraq:
Before leaving for Iraq, I’d had dinner at the usual Brooklyn bistro with Paul Berman. He kept comparing the situation in post-totalitarian Baghdad to Prague in 1989. I kept insisting that Iraq was vastly different: under military occupation, far more violent, its people more traumatized, living in a much worse neighborhood.
Prague in 1989! I can think of plenty of halfway reasonable analogies for what we could have expected in Iraq ? Afghanistan, maybe, or Kosovo, or perhaps Haiti or East Timor. Even the much loved analogies to postwar Germany and Japan had at least a tiny kernel of narrative truth to them.
But Prague in 1989? That’s insane. And it wasn’t just Berman. Apparently this comparison was a popular one among high ranking officials all throughout the administration. They really believed that the Velvet Revolution ? a homegrown revolt that drove out an occupying force from a modern European country ? was a good guide to what would happen in Iraq, which was marked by the entrance of a Christian occupying force into a violent and traumatized Muslim country.
It’s mind boggling. But, yes, they really believed it. Sweets and flowers.
UPDATE: Paul Berman claims that he never said this. More here.