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  • American Foreign Policy and Postwar Reconstruction: Comparing Japan and Iraq by Jeff Bridoux
  • Mark E. Caprio
Jeff Bridoux, American Foreign Policy and Postwar Reconstruction: Comparing Japan and Iraq. Abingdon, UK: Routledge Taylor and Francis, 2011. 240 pp. $49.95.

Before invading Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush offered the successful Japanese occupation as evidence that the United States had the capacity to deliver democracy to the Iraqi people (p. 1). Jeff Bridoux examines these two cases studies, the successful occupation of Japan and the failed occupation of Iraq, to determine factors that sway the outcomes of postwar reconstruction. He develops his arguments around three fundamental questions: “What analytical framework helps to identify factors explaining a specific outcome of reconstruction projects? What explains the outcome of US-led post-conflict reconstruction projects in Japan and Iraq? Based on these results, what criteria are essential for post-conflict reconstruction to succeed, and what does it tell us about the ability of the United States to mobilise power resources conducive to efficiency in reconstruction projects?” (p. 161). Bridoux’s study employs a Gramscian concept of power, particularly the Italian philosopher’s ideas regarding coercion and consent. His first three chapters coherently lay a theoretical foundation for examining the use of U.S. power in the two case studies. Chapter one, titled “American Power,” reviews fundamental definitions of power and their applicability to U.S. foreign policy. Chapter two, “Power and the American Experience,” offers a historical overview of the use of U.S. power to determine the elements that influenced U.S. policymakers’ understanding of power’s effects. He conceives of this history as a contest between a “myth of isolation” against the “reality of expansionism.” Finally, Bridoux assesses the Truman and Bush administrations’ understandings of power in the context of their foreign policies. Both confronted unsettled diplomatic situations, one challenged by the threat of Communism and the other by the threats of failing states. Both believed that theUnited States, by virtue of its exceptional global position, had sufficient power to confront this uncertainty. The different results gained by their foreign policies are explained by their different understandings of “what power can do” (p. 83).

These chapters lay a philosophical foundation for the next two chapters, which directly test the applicability of power theory in the postwar reconstructions of Japan and Iraq. Bridoux explains that since 1900 the United States has engaged in seventeen cases of intervention for the purpose of nation-building. Japan and Iraq, however, are unique because they represent the only two cases in which U.S. officials initiated a “total reconstruction” approach, one that sought to rebuild the state’s physical, ideological, and psychological elements. Two other candidates, Germany and Austria, though similar to Japan and Iraq in mission, were divided occupations that endured uncoordinated reconstruction projects (pp. 7–8). The United States initiated the Iraq and Japan occupations with a similar rationale: to “bolster its global position of power by physically occupying and ideologically formatting both countries, turning them into faithful allies in regions strategic to American interests.” To Iraq the United States added the “unofficial goals” of securing the country’s oil fields and strengthening the U.S. position in the Middle East (p. 162). In Japan, the United States wanted to secure [End Page 264] the country as a capitalist and democratic state, a bulwark against the growing threat of Communism in Asia (p. 163).

Why, then, did the two experiences lead to such different results? One important difference was the degree of legitimacy secured by the United States. U.S. forces arrived in Japan as a conqueror of totalitarian regimes, the holder of material and moral resources unmatched by rival states. The Japanese acceptance of the Allied terms of unconditional surrender required acceptane of Allied occupation and reconstruction. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, by contrast, was initiated on mistaken premises—that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed active programs of weapons of mass destruction and had terrorist connections with al Qaeda. These gaffes undermined the legitimacy of the postwar reconstruction actions in Iraq and more broadly within the international community. Other factors, such as the total defeat the United States inflicted on...


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pp. 264-265
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