Saturday, April 21, 2007

Occupying Germany and occupying Iraq

Typical scene in a German city, 1945

Helena Cobban has a thoughtful post at her Just World News blog that among other things, mentions some of the qualitative differences between the postwar occupations of Japan and Germany and the massive disaster in Iraq:
Peace, justice, and war-crimes courts: the view after Iraq 04/20/07.

She emphasizes three points of comparison. Her first point is this:

In 1945, in both Germany and Japan, the national society and the national state had alike been devasted by long years of devastating war (which included extremely fierce and lethal Allied bombardments of most major cities in both countries.) In Japan, a weakened Emperor still survived and was able to submit a surrender and negotiate its terms, though from a very weak position. In Germany, no national command authority survived to surrender; and in addition, nearly all the big military formations crumbled under the final assault. There was little need to "disband" the German army, since it had effectively fallen apart; all that remained in the various parts of Germany to which demoralized small units had fled was to gather them up and put them into POW camps as the Allies swept in for their final advance. In Iraq, by contrast, most of the Iraqi Army's big units had done little or nothing to resist the Allies' advance. They still existed-- and equally importantly, most of their armories still remained intact. When Bremer summarily ordered the disbanding of the entire Iraqi Army he overnight caused the disaffection of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men who had served in the army until then, as well as of all the family members who had been dependent on that man's salary. Moreover, these disaffected men had fairly good military training. They often retained unbroken ties with their former comrades-in-arms. And they had access to huge amounts of weapons and explosives lying in the armories that the occupation forces - mysteriously - did little or nothing to secure. The potential in Iraq for the emergence of well-armed, well-trained forces that would resist the occupation regime made this occupation, from the beginning, very different frm that in Germany or Japan.
I left the following comment there in response to that particular point, with a couple of small wording mistakes that I've corrected here:

What I would add to your point 1 on the German and Japanese postwar occupations is that it's somewhat misleading in the German case to say that the "national state" was "devastated". It's true that the Wehrmacht had been defeated and demobilized, and that the Nazi Party had lost its power and credibility.

But the normal governmental institutions had never been completed wiped out to the extent that occurred in Iraq. The police still functioned, the civil administration could continue to function under new direction. I wouldn't want to exagerate the point: there was some chaos in the cities, with young gangs going around robbing and plundering. But Germany was far better off in that regard than Iraq.

In Iraq, the American invasion "smashed the state" in a way that was no doubt gratifying to the conservative-Troskyist neocons whose pet project it was. (Though Lenin's notion of "smashing the state" had to do with changing its political character, not erasing the entire machinery of government and starting from scratch.)

It also reflected American military assumptions about "shock-and-awe" quickly destroying the command-and-control functions of the enemy, minimizing own-side (American) casualities and achieving a rapid conventional military victory. That figurative "decapitation" of the leadership, combined with the massive looting in Baghdad and other cities that virtually destroyed the physical assets and resources of the civilian governmental institutions, created a power vacuum that was far more drastic that what existed after Germany surrendered.

Germany was defeated. But Iraq was quickly thrown into a state of literal anarchy, of no government.

This is one consequence of a stategy based on "shock-and-awe", in which the military consideration of how to most quickly beat the opposing army was in contradiction to the political needs of the occupation that was to follow. I hope we never undertake another war likethis one. But the "lessons of the Iraq War" should include a thorough re-examination of how "shock-and-awe" functioned in winning the (conventional) war but losing the (conventional) peace.

Her second point is this:

The US-led force that occupied Iraq in 2003 was extremely small compared with the forces that had occupied Germany and Japan 58 years earlier.
True. Also much smaller relative to population than the NATO forces in Kosovo. This is already one of the military's main alibis for their failures in the Iraq War, that those mean civilians like Rummy made them go in with too small a force.

While that's true as far as it goes, when our infallible generals were faced with the task of going in with the "army you have", in Rummy's famous phrase, they also had decisions to make about how to approach the task. Their "shock-and-awe" approach had the drawback I mentioned for an operation that clearly would involved a postwar occupation. The failure to have sufficient resources of the right kind available to protect key government buildings is also not something that can be laid entirely at the feet of the bad civilians. Our generals did, after all, manage to protect the Oil Ministry in Baghdad quite well from the looting.

Her third comparison point is:

Finally, the US occupation regime in Iraq differed from those of 1945 in that it did not have within its cadre anything like the required amount of expertise on how to run the occupied country. ... In Iraq, by contrast, though the State Department had done quite a lot of earlier planning for running the occupation, those plans were all summarily jettisoned by Rumsfeld and his aides; and beyond that, Rumsfeld and his aides in the Pentagon made a point of trying to staff their entire occupation administration with people who were not Arabic speakers or experts on Iraqi affairs. Instead, in line with many philosphical predilections of the Bushists, they outsourced most of the tasks of planning for an running the occupation - a job that was outsourced largely to the small coterie of Iraqi exiles convened by Ahmad Chalabi...
Here again, this is true. But we shouldn't let our glorious generals get off by blaming it all on Rummy and Wolfie and their boys. The military had good reasons to anticipate, at least since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, that they needed far more people who were fluent Arabic-speakers. Even today, in the fifth year of war with no end in sight, there has been no push to put a substantial number of soldiers through intensive, year-long Arabic courses that could raise them to a decent level of fluency. That's not just Rummy's fault. It's also due to our generals who are more interested in fighting their inter-service rivalries and winning contracts for expensive and high-profile boondoggles like the Star Wars program than they are in taking care of an obvious need like this.

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