Iraq and Germany: David Stafford's post-war comparisons

In "Iraq is a mess. But Germany was, too.", an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post, David Stafford compares the current post-Saddaam occupation of Iraq to the post-WWII occupation and reconstruction of Germany:

It would be harder to think of two more different societies than Germany in 1945 and contemporary Iraq. The former -- despite Hitler and the Third Reich -- had a long tradition of law, order, constitutional government and civic society to draw on in rebuilding democracy. Nor was it riven by deep-rooted ethnic and sectarian religious tensions that erupted to the surface once the dictator's iron fist was removed. And although Germany certainly had hostile neighbors -- especially to the communist East -- the threat they posed served to create, not crack, political cohesion.

Yet in looking at Iraq over the past five years, it's hard not to find poignant echoes of the post-WWII experience and to wonder whether a better knowledge of that history might have helped prevent some basic errors. Or even -- because there may be some small crumb of comfort for optimists here -- that it's too soon to declare that the mission has failed. Sen. John McCain's 100-year horizon for a U.S. presence in Iraq may be stretching things. But let's not forget that the postwar occupation of Germany lasted for a full decade.

There is no doubt that mistakes were made early on, and Stafford is honest about those as well:

In 1945, the Allies had a carefully thought-out plan for what would follow victory. For two years before his forces crossed the German frontier, Eisenhower and his staff at Allied headquarters worked on detailed plans for the occupation. The lines of command were clearly drawn, and everyone agreed that the military would be in charge. Thousands of soldiers were trained in the tasks of military government. Compare that with the chaotically devised schemes for Iraq that were cobbled together at the last minute amid squabbling between the Pentagon and the State Department. Or with the confused and confusing mandate handed to the hapless Jay Garner, the first administrator of postwar Iraq, to devise a comprehensive plan for its administration in a matter of weeks.

But the questionable decision to dismiss the military and political apparatus which governed Iraq, according to Stafford, was not without precedent:

Critics of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq point to the decisions by L. Paul Bremer, Garner's replacement, to dismiss Baathists from public office and to dissolve the Iraqi army as critical and disastrous turning points that created a vast legion of the unemployed and disaffected. Yet in 1945, the Allies implemented a similarly draconian policy in Germany. They dissolved the Nazi Party, carried out a thorough purge of Nazis in public office and even abolished the ancient state of Prussia, which they believed was at the root of German militarism. Millions of Wehrmacht soldiers languished in prisoner-of-war camps while their families struggled to survive.

It will be many years before a full assessment can be made of the invasion and post-war American (with its allies) efforts in Iraq. It is hard to imagine that these assessments won’t point out plenty of mistakes – especially in the first year or two. But is it fair to expect that mistakes would not be made? As Stafford points out, even in Germany, which was more advanced, educated, and where more planning was done beforehand and more forces committed during the occupation and reconstruction, these efforts were not easy.

There are signs of progress: growing reconciliation with the restive Sunni minority, the Kurds have opted not to separate from a post-war Iraq, and Maliki’s recent offensive in Basra forced Al-Sadr to back down and accept a cease-fire, in spite of early predictions of doom and gloom by the American media. Iraqi security forces are growing in number and ability. We see their economy growing, and their democratic institutions taking root.

Five Army brigades are being withdrawn, our forces handing over more territory and responsibility to the Iraqi military, as well as to armed Sunni citizens who have rejected radicalism for national unity, and overseas tours are being reduced from fifteen to twelve months. Those are signs of progress as well.

Progress in Iraq should continue to be measured in both terms – progress for Iraqis and progress towards our eventual disengagement. So long as we continue to see success by both measures, the next President should not arbitrarily pull the plug on finishing the job.

1 Response to "Iraq and Germany: David Stafford's post-war comparisons"

  1. nyc moye 7/4/08 21:35
    serious just nuke em and lets go home

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

To post a comment without having a Blogger account, select "Name/URL", put your name in, but leave the URL line blank. Email me if you'd like to comment, but need help making it work.