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Iraq: Just Like Germany?
November 11, 2003
By Weldon Berger

From 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."

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]

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 shell-shocked.

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 them, no 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, 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. [emphasis added]
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 Iraqis."

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 solution.

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.

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