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The Difference between Germany, Japan, and Iraq

December 29, 2003

Many people compare reconstruction in post-war Iraq to the post-war reconstruction of Germany and Japan. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is only the most vocal proponent of the idea that we were going to liberate the Iraqis the way we liberated the Axis peoples, especially the Germans, from their own tyranny.

Would we had liberated Germany and Japan! Instead, we invaded, conquered them, and then we occupied them. The human costs were unbelievable: approximately 3.5 million German soldiers, and 780,000 civilians, killed. The death toll was nearly as great in Asia with an estimated 1.3 million Japanese soldiers, and 672,000 civilians, killed. The prewar German population was 80.6 million; that of Japan in 1940 was just over 73 million. Germany was ground like grain between two great armies that fought through its cities street-by-street and sometimes house-by-house. Japanís wood and paper cities were attacked with incendiary bombs to cause firestorms because it made a lot of sense to kill skilled workers.

The Allies insisted on unconditional surrender by the legitimate German and Japanese authorities. This demand forced all who thought the Nazi and Imperial orders were worth defending to fight, and often die, for their beliefs.

In contrast, the Iraqi government did not surrender, but, like its army, simply crumbled.

Iraqis and American GIs alike know that Iraq is home to Iraqis, not Americans. It is now a matter of sheer will between us and the Iraqis who, for whatever reasons, wish us to leave--right now. Iraqis who are willing to cooperate with us are known to the resistance and are intensely vulnerable. Unlike Americans, they canít go home.

In the summer of 1945, Germans and Japanese knew winter was coming on and that they had been brutally defeated and conquered by people who had gone to war specifically to defeat them. The Cold War, while looming on the horizon, was years away. Germany and Japan had manufacturing and agricultural economies to rebuild under the hard eyes of occupation troops. In contrast, the Iraqi resistance has only to read the papers to know how their actions affect our force structure, our operations in other countries, and the Korean contingency.

Winter is coming on. Everyone knew Germany and Japan were going to be occupied for a long time to come; in a real way, they still are. Now is the time for us to be very serious and very honest with ourselves, with the Iraqis who want to drive us out, and above all with the Iraqis who would cooperate with us in building a decent Iraq. We need to tell them how long we plan to be there and what we plan to do. Casual references to imperfect and incomplete historical analogies can serve only to confuse.

Erin Solaro is Executive Director of Aretea, a Seattle-based public policy and cultural affairs center. All rights reserved.


Further Reading

Wesley Clark, "Occupation: No Model for this One," Washington Post, March 23, 2003, Page B2.

John W. Dower, "Warning from History: Don't Expect Democracy in Iraq," Boston Review, February/March 2003.

Posted by coalition at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

Time to Leave Iraq

December 11, 2003

by Eugene Gholz

During his surprise Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, President Bush bluntly said, again, "we will stay until the job is done." In fact, the U.S. job in Iraq is already done.

We removed a terrible dictator from power, verified that there are no weapons of mass destruction, and guaranteed that no one will build them there soon. But Bush has expanded our aims to include creating "a peaceful country."

Unfortunately, our efforts to impose good governance change the incentives of Iraqi political leaders, prolonging internecine violence.

The administration, prominent Democrats, and think tank analysts have each offered their own ideas to promote peace in Iraq. The administration promises to seize the initiative with aggressive patrols and hard counter-attacks against militants. Many Democrats want to increase the number of occupying troops, using American or international forces. Independent analysts prefer to manipulate Iraqi groups like old European empires "divided and conquered." None of these strategies addresses the underlying cause of violence - only the withdrawal of American troops will do that.

Hitting insurgents hard appeals to the administration, because in their view only a few hardcore fighters oppose us. Eventually, officials hope, we may kill all of them. However, our patrols and attacks miss their targets much more often than they hit them, even when our intelligence is of the best quality. The tactical situation is very fluid, and we don't always know who we're looking for. As we strike harder, our misses cause more collateral damage, so they serve as advertising for anti-American groups' recruitment drives.

Iron fist tactics also violate American values. If the administration is correct that our opponents in Iraq are criminal gangs, then an aggressive military campaign there should look like our quest to destroy the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. At the end of a long struggle in which thousands of policemen, civilians, and drug thugs were murdered, America's Colombian friends killed Pablo Escobar. To pull this off, we allied ourselves with the odious Cali cartel, supported murderous death squads, and circumvented Colombia's governing institutions.
The proposal to expand the occupation force is no better. Advocates think that each soldier can interact with small groups of civilians, gathering information and protecting the innocent. Such close ties might sway the locals to our side. But the United States is already running out of soldiers, both active duty and reserves, even at current deployment levels.

Proposals to expand the American military by a few divisions cannot cure the shortfall. Historical experiences in post-World War II Europe, the Balkans, and Northern Ireland suggest we should deploy many thousands more soldiers in Iraq, each backed by two more at home, preparing or recovering. While a few more Americans could be persuaded to join the occupation force by offering higher pay, the only way to run a sustained occupation is with conscripts. And no one should seriously want to go back to a low-morale, less-professional American military.

The Democratic presidential contenders hope to solve this problem with multilateral forces. On the one hand, they imagine that other countries have significant, untapped reservoirs of soldiers. On the other, they believe that Iraqis would truly view international forces as liberators rather than occupiers. Like many liberal internationalists, these Democrats believe that misunderstanding causes conflict; specifically in Iraq, they trace the violence to locals' misinterpretation of America's goals - the belief that we want to exploit Iraq's oil.

The truth, though, is that the other rich countries have enjoyed a free ride on American defense spending, and their under-funded militaries have few troops to offer. With many soldiers already deployed in the Balkans, Europe has none to spare. French diplomatic intransigence is really just cover for military incapacity.

Moreover, it is naÔve to believe that Iraqis will be happier fearing exploitation by a U.N.-blessed coalition instead of an American-led one. The most powerful force in modern politics is the desire for local control. To an Iraqi, one international conspiracy is as perfidious as another.

Iraqis also fear domestic conspiracies as much as international ones. Control of the future Iraqi government is up for grabs. Saddam's thugs used to be strong enough to keep others down, but since the war, no group is strong enough to impose its rule on the others. American news stories routinely report conflict between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. Underlying that tension, myriad sub-factions now vie for control ñ the key source of instability in Iraq. The questions are whether that competition will be violent and whether the U.S. will be blamed for the fighting.

Optimistic American analysts hope that we can pursue a deft balance of power strategy; some even think that we should allow Iraq to collapse into three autonomous provinces (Kurd, Shiite, and Sunni) that could balance each other's power. But which Kurd, Shiite, and Sunni groups would rule? And if the U.S. hoped to maintain overall control, would we be able to manipulate the locals, or would they manipulate us? Americans would probably be tricked into doing locals' "dirty work." In Afghanistan, warlords have convinced Americans to attack rivals by calling them "Taliban sympathizers," even in cases where the rivals were actually American allies.

Local groups that are roughly the same size cannot permanently defeat each other. With a superpower around, they nonetheless keep fighting because they can hope to win with the foreigners' aid.

Without occupying forces, a balance of power could emerge among the main Iraqi factions. Stronger factions would cooperate because they could not win by battling in the streets, while weaker groups would accommodate them. But as long as American soldiers with heavy firepower stay in Iraq, local groups will fight against their rivals ñ either using their own militias or American proxies.

After crushing the old Iraqi order, the U.S. has no way to create a new one without an ugly transition. For the Iraqis, we should make that transition as short as possible. More important, we should prevent the transition from killing Americans, undermining our values, and breeding terrorist threats. The best answer is to withdraw American military forces from Iraq. Immediately.

Eugene Gholz is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 10:09 PM | Comments (0)