The war in Iraq had barely begun when the minds of those who conceived the invasion turned to what should happen after the victory over Saddam Hussein's regime-a victory everyone assumed to be inevitable. Politicians and experts have invariably sought to draw comparisons with recent examples like Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, East Timor, but also with more remote and fundamental cases.
After all, what is expected in Iraq is the fall of a highly ideological dictatorship. Is there anything we can learn from the last examples of this kind, from the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, or the end of the Third Reich in Germany in 1945 and the process of "de-Nazification" that followed?
The risks of such comparisons are almost too obvious for words. Every case has its own defining features. Regarding the demise of communism, the experiences of, say, Poland and Romania are profoundly different. As we cross even more profound cultural boundaries, comparisons become still less relevant. Yet there are a few issues that are common to the unraveling of most ideological dictatorships.
One such issue has to do with memory, and dealing with the past. This is connected with a practical question: who is in a position to build a new country on the ruins of the old regime?