Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reflections on Colossus, Part 2: Iraq is Germany

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana

Iraq is Germany.

Iraq is not Somalia.

Iraq is not Bosnia. 

The United States is awfully good at blowing things up. With a defense budget greater than the rest of the world combined, I would expect nothing less. Rarely though, does the US attempt to come in and put things back together again afterwards. The domestic will to dedicate such resources is rarely present. Additionally, the will of the people of other countries to work with the US to do so is rarely present.

In Bosnia, America dropped bombs without putting any soldiers on the ground. America let her allies (really, the enemy of our enemy) defeat Milosevic on the ground. After America's mission was accomplished, they were left to their own devices to let them re-build their own country. Little, if any, non-military aid was provided. Same story with Afghanistan in the 1980s and Libya today. Sometimes, these people feel grateful for US support and sometimes they feel embittered that the US left them in rubble. Either away, America did not engage in nation-building.

In Somalia, America put boots on the ground to prevent an all out civil war and/or ethnic cleansing. To win support of the locals, schools and roads were built. A civil society was attempted to be pieced together. But when some of the locals started shooting at the Americans, seeing them as imperialist invaders, Americans shot back. It's what America is good at; shooting back. Violence rose. Local support was lost. America, who lacked the will to carry on, pulled out and the power reverted back to warlords enforcing their will using violence. Same story for Panama and Haiti . Again, destruction without the nation-building.

In Germany, America - after reducing the enemy to rubble - had the will to stay. To re-build. The international community supported such efforts. More importantly, America had a threat that still need to be defeated. The locals were afraid of the very same menace, the Russians. Time, money, and effort were put into re-building the country and the locals, after initial hesitance, were eager to take part to re-build their country. The civil society institutions all got behind the project. Nation-building successfully ensued. Same story with Japan and South Korea

That's the story that America likes to tell. The nation-building successes of three of the largest economies in the world who all became junior partners to the American project. Not all of the other times the US came in, blew things up, then headed for the exit as quickly as possible.

Iraq can be that success story. The resources have been dedicated. John McCain said , "Make it a hundred years [to stay in Iraq]... we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me. As long as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That's fine with me, I hope that would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training and equipping and recruiting and motivating people every single day." 

The funny, if not sad, part of the story is the same mistakes that were made in Iraq were also made in Germany sixty years prior. Here are a few examples:

1) De-nazification in Germany meant getting rid of everyone with any sort of skill set. De-ba'athification in Iraq meant the same thing. After a short-lived attempt both projects were abandoned, with the exception of the very top layer of management, when reality struck that having a functioning government was a more important objective. Most middle level managers are not true believers, but rather just people trying to make a living.

2) We tried to get rid of any sort of re-armament to prevent a dictator from rising up again. This short-lived project ended when re-arming became a necessary reality for the governments to be able to stand up to external threats. For Germany, it was a needed defense against the Soviet Union. For Iraq, it was against Al Qaeda and other Muslim extremist organizations.

3) The transition government that was put in place completely lacked legitimacy and held back the recovery. Trust was uncertain and people would not work with it. They would even take up arms against it. Military tribunals held by foreign governments, or appointees of those foreign governments, promoted civil unrest. Not until democratic elections were held, did local buy-in happen and the economy started to prosper again.

Is Iraq where Germany was 60 years ago? Not yet, but if the US continues to invest in the countries' infrastructure then it might be the "beacon of democracy" in the Middle East.

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