Just as societies do not build statues to critics, nations do not celebrate anniversaries of occupations. This lesson of human nature is probably clearer to President Bush and his proconsul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, on the 60th anniversary of D-Day than it was on the 59th.
Bush is due in Normandy today to join French President Jacques Chirac in commemorating the Allied landings that began the decisive phase of the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule. As a cause for remembrance and celebration, the liberation far outshines the U.S. occupation that followed.
It may be that way someday for Iraq, although it is difficult in the current gloom and confusion to see how or when this rebalancing of memory and expectations will occur. But it could: The celebration in Normandy begins a week of international summitry that will focus on arranging a symbolic burial for a heavy-handed U.S. occupation in Iraq that has all but squeezed the life out of the act of freeing that country from a dictator's grasp.
That symbolic burial, through a new U.N. resolution, will help a little. So will the welcome confusion in Baghdad created by Iraqi politicians standing up to clumsy attempts by U.S. and U.N. officials to take away with the left hand the "full sovereignty" they claimed to offer with the right.
No one will ever mistake Ayad Allawi, the new interim Iraqi prime minister, for Charles de Gaulle. But this former exile politician managed a clever trifecta last week: Allawi skillfully lobbied his much-abused fellow Governing Council members to push his candidacy as a final act of political rebellion against the autocratic Bremer, all the while covertly maintaining his CIA funding and support and subtly striking a pose of independent skepticism about future U.S. or U.N. control.
You have to take your hat off to such dexterity and to wish success to Allawi and the administration he is supposed to run for the next six to seven months. They will need your wishes, and a lot more. The odds and forces arrayed against them are enormous. Bush, meanwhile, will need their success if he is to overcome negative U.S. sentiment about Iraq.
This week of international political summitry is intended to help the American president-candidate do just that. Bush and Chirac will at least briefly put aside deeply felt differences over how the world and the Middle East should be organized to celebrate the two-and-a-quarter centuries of alternating close cooperation and hissy fits that mark French-American relations.
They will be joined on Normandy's beaches by Gerhard Schroeder, the first German chancellor to attend D-Day celebrations, and then travel separately to Sea Island, Ga., where Bush on Tuesday opens the annual summit of the world's seven most affluent democracies and Russia, known as the Group of Eight. Exit roses of yesteryear's liberation. Enter thorns of today's occupation.
Bush is in a horse-trading mood for this week of diplo- speak. He has scaled back his once bold call for the spread of democracy and free enterprise in the Arab world in a bow to Chirac, Schroeder, Russia's Vladimir Putin and the few Arab states that will dare to send representatives to Sea Island to -- imagine the horror -- talk about political and economic empowerment.
The White House has even given Germany and France editing rights on the title of Bush's ambitious proposals on democracy in the region. The proposals formerly known as the Greater Middle East Initiative will be discussed at Sea Island as ideas for change and development in the "Broader Middle East and North Africa."
"Greater," as in the Nazi-era slogan Greater Germany, pinged unpleasantly on delicate ears at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, U.S. officials report. French nagging about the American failure to recognize the diversity of the region propelled North Africa into the title as well.
A significant concession on substance came when the United States accepted that no follow-up mechanism will be created to monitor the pledges of reform that Arab nations will make at a new, ongoing Middle East forum to be blessed by the G-8. Exit the Helsinki human rights model of 1975. Enter another talk shop for diplomats.
Or so it will be said, just as it was said that the baskets of Helsinki's Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would never dent Soviet imperialism. But they did. History is a dialectical process that produces ongoing, self-correcting change that veers more sharply and quickly than mortals can predict.
That is still Bush's best hope on his Greater Middle East program (sorry, Berlin).
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have set off reactions and counter-reactions that will accelerate the region's entry into something approaching the 21st century. Antonio Gramsci anticipated today's conditions when he wrote of times in which the old is dying, the new is not yet born and morbid symptoms appear in the interim. The pressure of events has forced Iraqis to begin to take charge of their political future and Arabs to initiate their own conversations about badly needed societal reforms. The United States has paid a high price for such modest gains. But it is too early to write off those gains as leading to nowhere, or to predict confidently that Iraq's liberation by American soldiers will never be celebrated by Iraqis and Americans.