Today, the United States hopes to see much the same transition in Iraq, helping to transform it into the first Muslim state in the Middle East to embrace liberal democracy, and to draw on the talent of its large middle class to become a vibrant industrial state.
Some of the United States' traditional allies -- such as France and Germany -- opposed the invasion of Iraq, but they have offered to help in the reconstruction.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder put it this way on 6 February in Munich: "I don't think it will surprise you that we agree that the question of whether one was for or against the war [in Iraq] now can and should be seen as an historical one. Even we, who for understandable reasons were against the war, are interested in providing for a peaceful, democratic, and restored Iraq, together with our friends in America and in Great Britain and others who are engaged there."
Maybe, say two international affairs analysts interviewed by RFE/RL. A victorious country rebuilding its vanquished enemy is a rather new idea, according to Kenneth Allard, a retired U.S. Army colonel who teaches military history at Georgetown University in Washington. It was especially new to the United States after World War II.
Allard noted that before the 20th century, the United States seldom went to war outside its territory. But as World War II was coming to an end, Allard says, the United States realized that its ally, the Soviet Union, would quickly become its adversary, with a newly defeated Germany caught in the middle. This meant that Germany had to be rebuilt not only for its own sake, but for the sake of the West as a whole. "We had never done anything like that. We had never been through anything like that before, and we made it up as we went along. There was no precedent whatever for staying [in Germany] and reconstructing anything," Allard said.
Despite this lack of experience, Allard says, the Americans devised the Marshall Plan, the massive reconstruction project for Europe. The motivation at that time, he says, was not a postwar insurgency like the one that U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians face today, but something far more urgent.
"The Marshall Plan was itself a reaction to an increasingly ominous Soviet Union. You could not retreat back into traditional American isolationism. You could not turn your back on Europe, because if you did -- you'd fought there twice in 50 years, this time you had to get it right. So we did the right thing because we were scared to death. And, you remember, the next thing that happened was the Russians got the [atomic] bomb," Allard said.
So the United States, Britain, and France had to transform Germany from an occupied, vanquished enemy into an active ally against the Soviet threat, according to Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington.
Brown said that immediately after World War II, Germans had simply "opted out of politics" because of their defeat. Eventually, however, they embraced democracy because they saw it as "their ticket for readmission to respectability" -- entering NATO and shedding some of their guilt over the Nazi era.
As a result, the West got an essential element of its bulwark against the Soviet Union. NATO not only had nuclear weapons as a deterrent, but it now had Germany as a willing partner, contributing not only its territory but also its armed forces to the alliance.
But in Iraq, Brown says, the situation is different. "In Iraq, that just doesn't hold. Nobody in Iraq wants a permanent alliance with the United States, and nobody in Iraq feels that they need the United States to vindicate it for the crimes of the Ba'athist era," he said. "So it's not as if Iraqis are interested in teaming up with the country that just defeated it."
Brown and Allard point out that, unlike the Germans, the Iraqis have shown themselves to be very active politically after Hussein's defeat. But they say political activism after the fall of a hated dictator in Iraq does not necessarily lead to embracing democracy.
The two analysts also say political and physical reconstruction in Germany succeeded because the determination for success never faltered in the United States. Iraq is a different story, they warn. "World War II had wall-to-wall support [in the United States], and that made [the] postwar reconstruction effort a little bit easier," Brown said. "This time, support for the [Iraq] war was broad but fairly shallow. Now that it's been a year, the war's becoming a little bit of a political liability rather than a political asset. I think that the interest in keeping our losses low and not making this too much of a fiscal drain -- I think that pressure is already beginning to be felt."
Brown says Iraq has a chance to become self-sustaining and even democratic. But first, he says, the various ethnic and religious factions will have to recognize one another as partners. So far, Brown says, each faction has relied on the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to resolve disputes with other factions. But the CPA will be gone once sovereignty is handed over after 30 June. At that point, Brown says, it will be up to the Iraqis to resolve their disputes themselves. How long that takes, he says, is anybody's guess.