Occupational Hazards

Occupational Hazards

Mini Teaser: Many Americans, including some of senior rank, appear to hold candy-coated views of the post-World War II U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan. Dealing with Iraq will be hard enough without enshrouding ourselves in myth.

by Author(s): Douglas Porch

Now that Iraq is Saddamfrei, that shattered country is to benefit from a Bush Admin-istration reconstruction program that the New York Times called in mid-April "the most ambitious American effort to administer a country since the occupations of Japan and Germany at the end of World War II." This laudable objective became obscured in the first five weeks after the end of major fighting, when disagreements erupted in high places over the aims and timetables of U.S. policy in Iraq. The public watched a U.S. team stumble into the Mesopotamian huddle without a playbook.

Peacekeeping, like war, is an interactive process. The United States was clearly caught flat-footed by the level of anarchy that ensued in Baghdad and in the shatterbelt of Arab-Kurdish contact in the north. The mission was mis- or understaffed--a soupçon of civil affairs, military police lite, and administrators either clueless about what they should be doing, or unwilling or unable to function because of poor security. In the midst of mayhem, General Jay Garner, Washington's Douglas MacArthur designate, behaved like a patient off his medication. In a moment of delusional optimism, he averred that his tenure would last "three months or so", but that his legacy would be a democratizing, if not fully democratic, country under paroled Iraqi command. A little later, on April 23, he averred that, although the Iraqis may dislike us now, "in very short order, you'll see a change in attitudes and the will of the people themselves." Alas, Garner was yanked, denied the opportunity to savor the promised effusions of Iraqi gratitude.

The way things are shaping up, it appears that unless American administrators get a grip on the post-conflict disorder in Baghdad, Bush 41's Iraqi ulcer may become Bush 43's Middle Eastern hematoma. The smart money bet is that, for political reasons alone, the administration must get a handle on the situation. Anglo-American reconstruction of Iraq will therefore be neither brief nor cheap. For some commentators, this fact constitutes a post-September 11 affirmation of the alleged neo-conservative ideology of the Bush Administration. For others, it follows the logic of events: bad guys did unspeakable things to the United States on September 11, 2001, and other bad guys, linked to rogue states, could cause even worse mischief in the future. One therefore does not depose a terrorism-aiding regime only to allow a clone to rise in its wake. The surprising capacity of the Iraqi Shi'a to mobilize and organize, with and without aid from Iran, quickly vaporized hopes for an express, consequence-free exit of occupation forces.

So it was that the President's May 16 appointment of Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III as chief civilian administrator in Iraq seemed to bring some closure to the uncertainty. The notion of an Iraqi provisional government has been scrapped for now, with both the White House and Downing Street judging the political situation as being too fluid, and the potential Iraqi political players too disparate, disorganized, and unrepresentative to anchor a coherent political system. In the meantime, Americans and British, not Iraqis, are sovereign in Iraq. Not only is the Ba'ath Party history, but Bremer has required 30,000 party members who served in the public sector to seek alternative employment--and he has decreed the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces.

This turn of events has buoyed those who feared a short-winded U.S. effort in Iraq. But nation-building in Iraq is war by other means. Recalcitrant supporters of the ancien régime have been put on notice that targeted looting, a sort of low-level guerrilla warfare with the purpose of making the country ungovernable, will not work. Washington has sent a message to Iran that its sycophants in Iraq will not be able to hijack a coalition military victory for its own purposes. Above all, the adjusted course speaks to America's determination, as in the past, to append democratic reconstruction to military victory.

The towering symbol of that past, of course, is the post-World War II occupations of Japan and Germany. Candidate George W. Bush, the ideological agnostic who repudiated nation-building and state-building as the false creed of New Deal liberals and un idealists, has lately become a born again reconstructionist. He has rediscovered the post-1945 American rehabilitation of Japan and Germany as models for what the United States must do in postwar Iraq. At the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner on February 26, he said:

America has made and kept this kind of commitment before--in the
peace that followed a world war. After defeating enemies, we did not
leave behind occupying armies, we left constitutions and parliaments.

The dedication to such a result having been proclaimed from the highest office in the land and reconfirmed by a Presidential Envoy, other pieces of the Iraq puzzle will now presumably fall into place. The American occupation will soon normalize everyday life: get the ministries running, the schools to their sessions, the electricity working and the water running and clean, and so on. Meanwhile, Iraq's deposed leaders will have their days in a court of one kind or another, as Iraqi institutions are cleansed of the Ba'ath Party under the watchful eye of the U.S. military. As these efforts proceed, and as postwar Iraq settles down, the majority of Iraqis will grow receptive to occupation goals and even embrace a protracted U.S. troop presence.

Over the slightly longer haul, revived oil revenues will supposedly ease the economic burdens of rehabilitation. The once-flourishing Iraqi middle class will be resuscitated, along with its hypothetical democratic traditions and the vibrant civil society that allegedly characterized pre-Ba'athi Iraq. With any luck, too, fear of Tehran promoting Islamist parties among Iraq's significant Kurdish and Shi'a populations will encourage an insecure post-Saddam Iraqi government to nestle in the embrace of the United States.

There are those, as well, who see the success of the U.S. occupation of Iraq as having broader positive regional implications. William Safire predicts that under U.S. tutelage Iraq "will become the center of an arc of freedom from Turkey in the north to Israel in the south." Even Egypt, according to Safire, will "not long resist a tidal wave of liberty" that will sweep the Middle East.

But not everyone agrees. As to this last, regional point, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, speaking in Cairo on March 31, claimed that a U.S.-led war against Iraq would spawn "one hundred more bin Ladens." The war, and the ensuing U.S. occupation, would lead not to liberalization but instead to the damming up of any incipient waves of democracy in the region. It would "open the gates of hell", as former Egyptian foreign minister and now Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said in Cairo on March 22. These two ought to know.

The other skeins of optimism may be questioned, as well. How will the United States nurture a democratic government that Iraqis see as legitimate? Since democracy is alien to the country, it may take a long time for the United States to build it; yet the closer the United States is associated with the effort, the fewer nationalist credentials will be enjoyed by those who emerge from under its wing. Moreover, the longer all this takes, the more likely the rise in resentment against what will seem to average Iraqis and other Arabs nearby as a colonial occupation. Already, Iraqis are complaining that they enjoyed more freedom under the British colonial regime than under Bremer. Continued chaos, assassinations and revenge killings, and the slow re-establishment of services make some Iraqis positively nostalgic for Saddam. Without access to a credible media, Arab rumor mills churn out black legends that the postponement of Iraqi self-government masks a Western confiscation of Iraq's oil. So while the temptation to declare victory and leave prematurely has clearly been avoided, other temptations, such as throwing good effort after bad if things do not go as planned, loom.

It may be that the U.S. occupation of Iraq will go precisely as the President seems to envision. One can hope so. But it will do no good to imagine the post-1945 U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan as sources of inspiration. The more one mines these experiences, the less appropriate to the moment and downright non-transferable they look. Indeed, it may be that the best purpose of studying those experiences is to learn what not to do, for the course of true democracy in Germany and Japan after 1945 did not run smoothly.

The Way We Were

In the silvery haze of our recollection of the "greatest generation",
the reconstruction and transformation of Germany and Japan from
totalitarian war-makers into peaceable democratic nations was an easy
road of intentions and hard work turned into benign consequences. The
truth is, however, that a full decade after World War II's finale,
many U.S. "nation-builders" considered their efforts a nearly
complete failure--and for good reason.

The fundamental problem was one of inflated, and subsequently dashed,
expectations. American occupiers assumed that, once the virus of
authoritarian rule had been purged, grateful Japanese and Germans
would enthusiastically embrace democracy. Instead, U.S. reformers
encountered torpor, resentment and resistance. General Lucius Clay,
who presided over Germany's U.S. zone of occupation, called
de-nazification his "biggest mistake"--a "hopelessly ambiguous
procedure" that created "a pathetic 'community of fate' between small
and big Nazis" and elicited the hostility of the population. John D.
Montgomery, a Military Government officer in postwar Germany,
confessed that the New Deal activism that fueled a missionary zeal to
convert erstwhile adversaries to democracy encountered a stone wall
of local enmity. "We had success in small ways", he wrote, "but in
1955, I was not at all sure either country was going to be a

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