“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Bollettino

A country, X, is run by a corrupt family. The prime minister is notoriously greedy. There is a religious secret police. Another country invades this X, captuiring the family, and rooting out the old government. It proposes a constitution that abolishes the old secret police, creates modern property rights, and asserts the rights of men. The constitution is taken up by a convention composed of some of the leading businessmen in the country. In the meantime, the occupier�s army is met with resistance. The resistance is low level and unorganized at first. The occupier responds with force. The resistance grows. The occupier blames foreigners for the increase in resistance�

Sound familiar? This is pretty much the story of Napoleon�s invasion of Spain.

There�s a pernicious meme that emerged at the end of the �hostilities� in Iraq. The meme was that occupying Iraq would be much like occupying Germany or Japan at the end of World War II. Now, the elements of the likeness, here, were broadly two: The U.S. invaded another country. The U.S. occupied that country. This is about as far as we could go with that analogy. Not only is this a different country, with a very different history. Not only did the occupation of Germany and Japan take place in the face of the Soviet Union�s own occupation of what became East Germany, and of Eastern Europe. But the U.S. of that time was a much different place, too. It was coming out of a Great Depression and the incredible mounting of a war effort that overshadowed anything the U.S. government had ever done before. Etc.

This is not even to get into the finer grained differences of the Iraqi situation, in which the occupying reference would be to the British in 1920-25.

The post-WWII analogy, however, was right to give us a sense that the U.S. has done this before. Hell, we could have produced tons of analogies, from Haiti to Panama, for that matter. Alas, for the general chickenhawk right, the analogy operated as a sort of holy writ. This is where it became pernicious. With all those batty references to Churchill and MacArthur in his mind, Bremer made the cardinal error of the occupation so far, disbanding the Iraqi army. And the idea of a supreme council of exiles attracting the support of the natives � the Adenauer solution, diffused, this time, among Chalabi-bots � is still buzzing like a bee in the bonnets of the D.C. Napoleons around Rumsfeld and Cheney.

A bad analogy generates bad arguments. The current mania on the right is to dig up obscure newspaper articles about the occupation of Germany that criticized the pace, structure or doing of it. Well, the occupation of Germany did have its problems. As Hannah Arendt pointed out in Eichmann in Jerusalem, in 1962, well after Adenauer was established as a reliable U.S. ally, five thousand of West Germany�s eleven thousand judges had been active in the courts under Hitler. The German war crimes investigation unit was only founded in 1958. Even very prominent war criminals had little trouble �hiding� in West Germany through the sixties. Etc. But the main lesson, here, is that there isn�t a lesson. We don�t need an analogy to tell us about Iraq. We have � Iraq.

There was a recent debate at Oxford over the proposition: we are losing the peace in Iraq. Now, the proposition itself was ridiculous. There is no peace in Iraq, so how can we be losing it? The general sense, however, was that the occupation is going badly. The pro-war side won. The speech by Josh Chavetz starts out with the non-sequitor that because the German occupation was a success (or partially � wonder what the East Germans make of that success?), and because the initial American policy was criticized by the press at the time, by a law of historical commutation, the Iraqi policy will be a success. This is, I guess, how they teach political science at Oxford. It is definitely the reason political science is considered a joke science by natural scientists. Here�s how Chavetz�s speech makes its case:

I must begin with a word of apology for my lack of preparation. Not only was I just asked yesterday to speak, but I was also laboring under the apparent misapprehension that we would be addressing the resolution that "This House believes that we are losing the Peace." Yet I find that the honorable gentleman who has just spoken in the affirmative [Jeremy Corbyn, MP] has talked about the war - about Vietnam, oil, Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair, international law, weapons of mass destruction, sanctions, and so on. While these are all issues worthy of serious discussion, I must confess to being somewhat baffled at how these normative questions bear on the empirical resolution that I was told we were to debate.

And an important empirical question it is. Three of the most widely read American magazines have recently run stories on how the occupation is going, and the verdict is unanimous. "Americans are Losing the Victory" screams one. "How We Botched the Occupation" is on the cover of another. "Blueprint for a Mess" is the verdict of the third.

Actually, I've taken some liberties with two of those headlines, so let me start over. "Blueprint for a Mess" is indeed the cover article in this week's New York Times Magazine. But "Americans Are Losing the Victory" is from the January 7, 1945 issue of Life magazine, and the full headline is "Americans are Losing the Victory in Europe." The Saturday Evening Post on January 26, 1946 ran "How We Botched the German Occupation."

Here�s an idea: maybe what�s botched, here, is the analogy. Especially considering that on January 7, 1945, we were advancing with troops into Germany, still � not occupying the damn place. And considering that, in 1946, botching the occupation probably referred to the threat of the Soviets, rather than a renewal of Naziism. Although maybe we should pursue the analogy further and ask what the effect of FDR donning a combat uniform and proclaiming mission accomplished � oops, or proclaiming, under a banner of mysterious origin that read, mission accomplished, that the hostilities were over � maybe we should wonder what effect that would have had on the war.

Incidentally, some say you can date the downfall of Napoleon to the committment of troops to Spain.

No comments: