Just Like Germany?
By Weldon Berger
Boston Globe editorial columnist Jeff
Jacoby via the BushBlog
comes yet another comparison of the occupation of Iraq to
that of Germany following World War II. Condi Rice has likened
the two, as has Don Rumsfeld, with Rice being particularly
specious in her claims that Nazi saboteurs waged a guerilla
campaign against the US occupation.
Jacoby gets into the act with a quote from an article appearing
in the Saturday Evening Post in early 1946 questioning
the effectiveness of the US effort in Germany.
"We have got into this German job without understanding
what we were tackling or why," he [Demaree Bess] wrote. "Not
one American political leader fully realized at the outset
how formidable our German commitments would prove to be. There
was no idea, at the beginning, that Americans would become
involved in a project to take Germany completely apart and
put it together again in wholly new patterns."
Jacoby, apparently better versed than Rice in post-war history,
attempts to get by with merely insinuating that the occupation
faced violent resistance - "frequently vicious" - rather than
fictionalizing it outright, as Rice did. He also ignores that,
at the time the article was written and until the implementation
of the Marshall Plan in 1948, three years subsequent to the
beginning of the occupation, Germany was a mess. It just
wasn't a particularly violent mess, and what violence there
was occurred mostly among refugees or between refugees and local
Germans. The war had a discrete end, the Germans knew they'd
been beaten, the initial occupation force consisted of more
than a million troops and the entire country was exhausted and
Today, of course, few would argue that the United States
"botched" the occupation of West Germany. Looking back from
the early 21st century, it is clear that the transformation
of the shattered Nazi Reich into a bulwark of democracy
was one of the signal achievements of 20th-century statecraft.
But on the ground in 1946, that happy outcome was nowhere
in view. What was in view was an occupation beset by troubles
- chaotic, dangerous, and frequently vicious. Just like
the one in Iraq today. [emphasis added]
Despite the rather pacific circumstances, Germany's previous
experience of representative government and the impact of
the Marshall Plan, the first phase of the occupation lasted
four years and, one way or another, we've been continually
present in the country for going on 60 years.
Iraq, in contrast, is a bloody mess. We don't have enough
manpower in place to provide a secure environment in which
the rebuilding can take place and we've just cut loose our
last lifeline, Turkey, because the thought of Turkish troops
operating in Iraq freaked out everyone on the alleged Iraqi
Governing Council (whom the US, despite having hand-picked
longer trusts). The Red Cross, which had operated in Iraq
continuously since the early 1980's, through two wars and
12 years of sanctions, has pulled out of Basra (a move that
still has me puzzled) and Baghdad. Far from defeating and
disarming Iraq's military, we simply disbanded it and sent
400,000 heavily armed, unemployed men off into the ether.
The insurgents have taken out tanks, shot down helicopters,
launched a rocket attack against a prominent home for wayward
imperialists, killed nearly 150 US troops and blown up who
knows how many HumVees.
The US Army lost a very few troops during the first six months
of the German occupation; considerably fewer, in fact, than
we've lost in Iraq during the six months since the war didn't
end, and none from organized resistance. And although the
situation in Germany was chaotic, it would have been far worse
had not two years of planning gone into it; the major problems,
according to the Army's
official record of the occupation, were things such as
masses of refugees dumped by the Soviets into the American
Zone and disorganization resulting from poor discipline and
low morale among US troops anxious to get home.
In contrast, according to an
Army report leaked to GlobalSecurity.org, at least one
division in Iraq was provided with no plan whatsoever for
making the transition from combat to occupation.
There was no guidance for restoring order in Baghdad,
creating an interim government, hiring government and essential
services employees, and ensuring the judicial system was operational.
In retrospect, perhaps division planners should have been
instructed to identify and address these issues earlier, given
the likelihood that higher would not provide such information.
That theme was repeated throughout the report. So when Jacoby
says that "Like the occupation of Germany in January 1946, America's
work in Iraq is only getting underway. A huge amount of effort
- and danger - still lies ahead. What Americans need now are
leaders who can focus on the great work before them, not sideline
snipers carping prematurely that the occupation has been 'botched',"
he's perpetuating a completely pollyannish analogy in service
of an administration that has executed an historic blunder.
What we need are not leaders with a vision of sugar plums
dancing in the Middle East - that's how we got here - but
leaders who can acknowledge that they've made serious, and
seriously unnecessary, mistakes, and who can provide some
indication that they have a clue as to what to do next. Instead,
we get the same old stubborn refusal not only to publicly
recognize mistakes but to refrain from publicly hallucinating
about the nature of the problems we face. The reason Americans
are wavering in their support for the war is not, as Jacoby
asserts, that they're unwilling to put up with casualties,
but that they're unwilling to put up with casualties in a
war that was ill-justified and, despite the rapid evaporation
of the opposing army, poorly planned. They're unwilling to
put up with casualties in a war for which their leadership
has offered no coherent explanation of how it will end, or
when it might end, or what will happen once it ends.
And it's getting worse. On a recent trip to Baghdad, deputy
secretary of state Richard Armitage - who looks like an old-time
pro wrestler and is ordinarily not given to flights of fancy
- came out with an astonishingly Westmoreland-like pronouncement:
"I'm absolutely convinced we have a very solid plan to
go out and get these people who are killing us and killing
In other words, there's light at the end of the tunnel. This
from a man who is intimately
familiar with the details of the Vietnam War.
What we assuredly don't need is Jeff Jacoby or Condi Rice
or Don Rumsfeld or anyone else to spin fairy tales about the
similarities between the occupations of Germany or Japan or
the Philippines or anywhere else. We don't need them to lapse
into juvenile namecalling whenever someone dares criticize
the war or the war/occupation. We don't need them to tell
us we don't understand what's at stake. This is Iraq, this
is now, and we're in trouble. Americans do understand the
stakes; probably better, in a visceral way, than most in the
administration do. Americans know that we need a freakin'
plan. Unfortunately, the administration lied so early, so
often and so obviously that many Americans won't believe them
even in the unlikely event they do come up with a workable
That lack of credibility will impact every one of us and
every one of our leaders - not just now, and not just at home
but around the world - for a very long time. That lack of
credibility is more dangerous than any number of insurgents
and terrorists in Iraq. It's time - past time - for some truth.
Weldon Berger is a freelance writer living and working
in Hawaii. He has a plan. You can reach him by
email or by visiting
his web site. This material is Copyright ©2003 by
Weldon Berger and may be reprinted so long as it is properly
credited to Weldon Berger and Democratic Underground.