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Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Back in November of 03 – about 500 American, and God knows how many Iraqi deaths ago – it became apparent enough that the occupation was being botched that the ardent pro-war party started throwing around analogies. The one that was particularly beloved was to Germany. Somehow, you don’t hear a lot of comparisons of occupied Germany to occupied Iraq nowadays. Even the rabidly gullible have given that analogy up. At the time (Nov. 13), LI wrote:

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.”

Our problem with the analogy was both with the logical form of it – as guides to the future, analogies from the past have to be examined pretty skeptically – and with the content of it – Iraq was like neither Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. We noted that the differences – for instance, in the scale of destruction visited upon Germany and Japan, in contrast to that visited upon Iraq – pretty much vitiated the extrapolations we could make from the former occupations.

We are happy to note that an article in the Summer issue of International Security bears out our point. “Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail,” by David M. Edelstein, presents a study of occupations that begins, well, as if Edelstein were reading LI:
“When Gen. Eric Shinseki, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, testified in February 2003 that an occupation of Iraq would require "something on the order of several hundred thousand troops," officials within George W. Bush's administration promptly disagreed.1 Within two days, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared, "It's not logical to me that it would take as many forces following the conflict as it would to win the war"; Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz characterized Shinseki's estimate as "wildly off the mark."2 More than a year after the occupation of Iraq began, the debate continues over the requirements and prospects for long-term success.3 History, however, does not bode well for this occupation. Despite the relatively successful military occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II, careful examination indicates that unusual geopolitical circumstances were the keys to success in those two cases, and historically military occupations fail more often than they succeed.”

Edelstein took a data set of twenty four military occupations. These included US occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but also extended to the allied occupation of France in 1815. Edelstein has developed a taxonomy of occupations with which we are not concerned. He scotches the common idea that length alone creates successful occupations – one of Niall Ferguson’s standard arguments. The key grafs are as follows:

“The crux of my argument is that military occupations usually succeed only if they are lengthy, but lengthy occupations elicit nationalist reactions that impede success. Further, lengthy occupation produces anxiety in impatient occupying powers that would rather withdraw than stay. To succeed, therefore, occupiers must both maintain their own interest in a long occupation and convince an occupied population to accept extended control by a foreign power. More often than not, occupiers either fail to achieve those goals, or they achieve them only at a high cost.

Three factors, however, can make a successful occupation possible. The first factor is a recognition by the occupied population of the need for occupation. Thus, occupation is more likely to succeed in societies that have been decimated by war and require help in rebuilding. The second factor is the perception by the occupying power and the occupied population of a common threat to the occupied territory. If the survival of the occupied country is threatened, then the occupying power will want to protect a country that it has already invested resources in and considers geopolitically significant, and the occupied population will value the protection offered to it. The third factor involves credibility. Occupation is likely to generate less opposition when the occupying power makes a credible guarantee that it will withdraw and return control to an indigenous government in a timely manner. When these three conditions are present, occupying powers will face less resistance both in the occupied territory and at home; they will be given more time to accomplish their occupation goals, and, therefore, will be more likely to succeed. Absent these three conditions, occupying powers will face the dilemma of either evacuating prematurely and increasing the probability that later reintervention will be necessary or sustaining the occupation at an unacceptable cost.

My conclusions with regard to the contemporary occupation of Iraq are not sanguine. Whereas war-weary Germans and Japanese recognized the need for an occupation to help them rebuild, a significant portion of the Iraqi people have never welcomed the U.S.-led occupation as necessary. Further, the common analogy between the occupations of Germany and Japan and the occupation of Iraq usually undervalues the central role that the Soviet threat played in allowing those occupations to succeed.”

We don’t imagine the New Crusaders are going to read Edelstein’s piece – they have moved on to other equally dodgy arguments. But for those who are actually concerned about the Iraq war, it really is essential reading.

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