Sunday, May 27, 2007

Not Learning History's Lessons

By Cernig

One of the old favorites of the pro-war right in justifying the continued occupation of Iraq is a feeble wave at the occupation of Germany after World war Two. "Look," they say, "it is possible - it takes time but a nation can be rebuilt." And thus the rationalization for staying the course, because Germany wasn't completely rebuilt in four years.

Paddy Ashdown, formerly the international community's envoy for Bosnia and someone who originally supported the invasion of Iraq, explains how Bush administration incompetence blew the comparison with post-war Germany from word one.
The allies ran Germany from 1945 to 1949 and in that period, the rule of law was re-established, human rights respected, robust democratic institutions created and the foundations of Europe's strongest economy laid. Much of this happened despite some spectacular blunders in the early days, many of which were repeated in Iraq.

In 1945 the allies planned to remove 180,000 officials from their posts, but discovered that if they did, they would have no one to run the state. Former membership of the Nazi party ceased to be a barrier; West Germany's second president was a former member.

The situation the coalition found in Iraq was similar. Most of those responsible for running the country were members of the Baath party. The coalition proceeded to purge all the Baathists from their posts. And then found, as in Germany, they were left with no one to run the state and its services.

There was the similarly disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army. Here, the coalition did not have to look as far back as Germany. In most more recent international interventions, the soldiers of the defeated army had been given a month's salary, then reintegrated into a the army or helped to find a job in civilian life. But in Iraq, the army was peremptorily dissolved, leaving the coalition with too few soldiers to maintain security. For many soldiers, joining the insurgency became a very attractive option.

One of the ironies of the German experience is that it was the US who were the most enlightened and the British and French the most reactionary. The US military had no truck with the ridiculous instructions of General Montgomery to British troops not to speak to any Germans. The Americans were the first to realise that dismantling German industry was a mistake; in the interests of lasting peace, it was far better to help rebuild it. In the coalition in Iraq, the Americans have proved by far the least sensitive to the local population.

Since the end of the Cold War, international intervention has halved the number of wars in the world and reduced the number of casualties by even more. But success depends on basic rules that were ignored in Iraq. Plan even harder for peace than for war; you will probably need more troops to provide security after the war than you needed to win it; make the most of the 'golden hour' after the war ends; creating security should be the first priority; get the economy going fast; you may have to remove those at the top of the old regime, but you will need the rest to run the state; work with the local population and its traditions; you need the help of the neighbours - one of the big mistakes over Iraq was to make enemies of Iran and Syria.
Those who do not study history aren't just doomed to repeat it - they are doomed to make an absolute disaster out of trying to repeat it.

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