Germany and Japan--and Iraq

Germany and Japan--and Iraq

Will the United States heed the nation-building lessons learned at the end of World War II?

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“Occupational Hazards” by Douglas Porch,
The National Interest "text14"> (Summer 2003), 1615 L St., N.W., Ste. 1230, Washington, D.C.

Some proponents of preventive war in Iraq suggested
that postwar nation-building after the war would be a snap. Look at how the
United States turned Germany and Japan into model democracies after World
War II. But the task, in fact, wasn’t so easy then, and it will be
even harder in Iraq, argues Porch, a professor of national security affairs
at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

“The truth is that a full decade after World War
II’s finale, many U.S. ‘nation-builders’ considered their
efforts a
nearly complete failure class="text59">—and for good reason,” he writes. In surveys
taken at the time, a majority of Germans said that their country’s class="text70">“‘best time in
recent history had been during the first years of the Nazis.
class="text70">’” Instead of
gratitude and an enthusiastic embrace of democracy, U.S. reformers in
Germany and Japan “encountered torpor, resentment, and
resistance,” says Porch.

During the 1950s and 1960s, both the Germans and the
Japanese overcame their resentment, and the two nations evolved into
flourishing, peace-loving democracies. But that resulted less from Allied
occupation policies, Porch says, than from various other factors, including
“enlightened political leadership, ‘economic miracles’ spurred by the Marshall Plan in Europe and the Korean War in Japan, and the
precedent, however frail, of functioning democratic government in both
countries.” The Germans and the Japanese were talented,
technologically advanced peoples, eager to put the devastating war behind
them. “Above all, though, fear of the Soviets caused leaders in both
countries, supported by their populations, to take shelter under the U.S.
military umbrella.”

“Post-Saddam Iraq is a poor candidate to
replicate the success of Japan and Ger­many,” Porch maintains.
“Though once a relatively tolerant, pluralist society, Iraq has
become a fractured, impoverished country, its people susceptible to
hysteria and fanaticism. They are historically difficult to mobilize behind
a common national vision, and no Yoshida Shigeru or Konrad Adenauer can be
expected to emerge from a ruling class that inclines toward demagogy and
corruption.” Despite the problem Iran poses for Iraq, there’s
no equivalent of the Soviet Union to induce Iraqis to welcome U.S.
protection. And “as for prewar experiences of Iraqi democracy, there
are none.”

When most U.S. forces came home after World War II,
the task of running Germany and Japan was, in effect, “swiftly turned
over to the locals” in each country, says Porch, “with the U.S.
military retaining vague supervisory powers.” In Iraq, by contrast,
“a large U.S. garrison” is likely to be necessary for
“the foreseeable future,” inevitably arousing further

Learning from the mistakes of the de-nazification
effort in Germany, the United States should let the Iraqis “carry out
their own ‘de-Baathification lite,’ complete with war crimes
trials of Saddam’s top henchmen.” Instead of conducting
“an invasive campaign of democratization and cultural
engineering,” U.S. nation-builders should aim “to
‘normalize’ Iraq fairly quickly by putting a responsible
leadership cadre in place while retaining a supervisory role with enough
soldiers to back it up,” thus preventing the country from sliding
into chaos.

The U.S.-British reconstruction of Iraq will be
“neither brief nor cheap,” Porch says, but, “with any
luck,” it will succeed eventually, as reconstruction succeeded
eventually in Ger­many and Japan.

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