Monday, February 19, 2007

Germany and Iraq, Part 1

[posted by Callimachus]

"We were very lucky, General MacArthur and myself, that we came out of an occupation as well as we did." [Gen. Lucius D. Clay, military governor of the U.S. Zone of Germany 1947–49]

I often read two things:

  • The Bush Administration made an appalling and inexplicable error when it overthrew Saddam and took charge of Iraq without a plan for running and fixing the country, and without even an informed expectation of what Americans would find there once the war ended or a plan for addressing those conditions.

  • By contrast, the American reconstruction efforts in defeated nations after World War II were an example of how to do it right.

Both could be true. But they don't dovetail together as well as people assume, when they don't study the history.

West Germany was a faithful American ally through the Cold War, and the united Germany is a rock of stability in the center of Europe. Iraq doesn't seem to be headed down that path. Yet almost all the things cited as American mistakes in Iraq also were done in Germany.


The notion that funneling more troops into the country automatically would have equaled a good outcome, for instance, strikes me as simplistic and unconvincing. Certainly there were too few in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. But you could stand a GI on every streetcorner in every city in Iraq, and the resistance would simply thrive behind their backs, in the homes. You could invade the homes, and the resistance would take to the swamps. If not the swamps, the mountains. Or the desert. Numbers alone mean nothing.

Post-war Germany often is cited as a counter-example to modern Iraq: Germany was occupied in 1946 at a ratio of troops to civilians about 10 times greater than currently is the case in Iraq.

Yet the French zone, where the ratio of troops to civilians was by far the highest among the allies, also had the most problems with resistance activities and civil unrest -- in large part because there were so many French troops there, sucking up resources from a hungry countryside and getting into proportionately more scraps with the locals. The notion that Americans should move in Iraq and Afghanistan with a light footprint makes a certain sense: especially given Gen. John Abizaid's now-famous warning that American troops would be considered an “antibody” in the Arab world.

It seems to me a case where you encounter one set of problems by doing it one way, but if you make the opposite set of choices you run into a different set of obstacles. Which seems to be the most common thread in such occupations, whether it's Germany 1946 or Iraq 2006.

The Allies over-occupied Germany, for a variety of reasons, some of them purely punitive. By 1946, even the U.S. Army acknowledged all it really needed in Germany was two mobile divisions and a combat command. That was because a real insurgency never developed in Germany. But the absence of a resistance was not necessarily a function of the numbers of invading troops.


The Allied occupation was not fully in place until about a year after the war ended. In the interim there was plenty of opportunity for a resistance or an insurgency to grow up in Germany. Elements of the German army -- tens of thousands of men -- simply melted into the civilian population, which willingly hid them -- as happened in Iraq.

Even though Eisenhower tried to be scrupulous about scrubbing out any pockets of resistance that had been left behind once the Allies invaded Germany, much of the country was open territory for months. The Australian newsman Osmer White, reporting from the front as Patton advanced, had to ride back to army headquarters to file his newspaper articles. The round trip sometimes amounted to more than 200 miles. "Often unit command posts had dropped thirty or forty miles behind the action, even in the Eifel and Hünsruck where the conflict was much less diffuse than it was over the river. I would sometimes travel for an hour or more through sparsely populated areas without sighting a single American soldier.

For weeks I laboured under the delusion that this nerve-racking business of rushing back and forth to the 'front' was dangerous. Sooner or later, I thought, the German civilians would snap out of their stunned docility and start a guerrilla war. One of these fine spring mornings I was going to run into a burst of machine-gun fire or a grenade pitched out of a top-storey window ... even a wire stretched from tree to tree round a sharp bend, or a nest of mines planted overnight at a crossroads.

Elsewhere, he speculated, "I am convinced that if the German people had shown the spirit to wage a partisan campaign behind the Allied spearheads which split the country, or if the German general staff had been able or willing to regroup and concentrate substantial forces in the Bavarian mountains, Hitler would have made good his last maniacal promise to bring all Europe down in chaos should his arms fail."

Anyone who chased Patton's tanks and motorized infantry to Chemnitz, or, for that matter, followed the thrust westward from the Middle Rhine towards Berlin, could not have failed to realize how desperately thin on the ground the forces of occupation were spread. They hadn't the manpower to control a hostile civilian population.

In Iraq, remember, the first signs of trouble began within weeks of the fall of Saddam, and by the time the coalition began to make and enact plans to restore security in Iraq, the “security gap” had yawned and the country descended into looting, street crime, and organized sabotage.


Eisenhower himself apparently expected a full-scale resistance movement in Germany after Hitler's fall. As head of the invading army from the West, his beliefs and expectations shaped American policy toward the Germans. He had seen his own men die from fanatical resistance by hopelessly outnumbered Germans, and he naturally concluded the Germans were a warlike people who would never surrender and never submit. He helped harden the American policies in late 1944.

What's interesting is not just how wrong he was about the Germans. But also how close his prediction came to the conditions the Americans met after another invasion, sixty years later, in Iraq. Eisenhower foresaw great difficulty in maintaining public services and utilities in occupied Germany, and he thought the Allies ought to refuse to be responsible for the humanitarian situation after an invasion:

[I]t may well be that the German Army as a whole will never actually surrender and that we shall enter the country finding no central German authority in control, with the situation chaotic, probably guerrilla fighting and possibly even civil war in certain districts. ... If conditions in Germany turn out to be as described it will be utterly impossible effectively to control or save the economic structure of the country ... and we feel we should not assume the responsibility for its support and control.

In part as a consequence of these fears, and in part out of desire to collectively punish and de-fang the Germans (rooted, paradoxically, in the "Just War" doctrine), the Americans and their allies marched into Germany with a plan on paper for a draconian "hard peace." The document governing this, Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067, issued Nov. 9, 1944, presumes merciless victors imposing a Carthaginian peace on a resisting German population.

Germans lived under daily curfews and strict travel restrictions. Meetings of more than five persons were banned, effectively killing political activity. They had to surrender even their hunting rifles and ceremonial arms; mails and the media were under strict censorship; children prohibited from joining anything that might look like Hitler Youth, even Boy Scout troops.

Armed resistance, sabotage, and possession of weapons were defined as capital crimes in SHAEF's Proclamation no. 1. The victorious allies held German POWs for years after the fighting stopped, in contravention of international law, in part (as Churchill said frankly) as insurance against popular uprisings. By June 1945, the Americans also had detained 30,000 civilians in internment camps, and by the end of the year the number had shot up to 100,000.


Yet somehow, Eisenhower's gloomy anticipation of a Germany collapsing into disorder never got through to the civilian authorities who were in charge of planning the occupation. When Lucius D. Clay, the U.S. proconsul appointed to oversee the American zone of occupation in Germany, got to Europe, he found a U.S. Control Council in place in Paris, "organized by government ministries, all on the theory that they were going to go in and take over an existing German ministry from the top and administer it." Clay said later:

Well, within a week it was clear to me that this was just a lot of damn foolishness. That there weren't going to be any German ministries in existence, and if there were, under our instructions they would never be allowed to serve, and that we were going to have a far more chaotic condition than was visualized by this rather academic organization.

Before he got to Europe, however, Clay had been under the usual illusions. Asked what he thought he would find in Germany, he answered, "I knew pretty much the type and kind of physical destruction we were going to find. But I don't think I appreciated that there would be a complete breakdown of government (and all other services, really), largely through unconditional surrender."

"The totality of the German collapse took the invaders by surprise," White wrote. "They had expected that basic civil administration would continue to function and were nonplussed when it fell apart."

Compare this to the situation in Iraq in 2003:

Contrary to popular belief, the United States and the United Kingdom did undertake extensive planning for postwar Iraq. Unfortunately, this planning focused on humanitarian relief and was based on the assumption that the institutions of the Iraqi state, including police, could be relied upon to keep the state functioning and to maintain order after the overthrow of the regime. Prewar planning did not envisage the need for an extensive program of work in Iraq’s police and justice sectors.

Most of the administrative structures of central and local government had collapsed when the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and its successor, the CPA, took over the administration of Iraq in April and May 2003. Whereas prewar planning had envisaged merely the removal of the top-level Ba’athists and regime loyalists, most of the security sector institutions evaporated overnight. The intelligence and security agencies, Ba’ath Party organizations, and paramilitaries went underground. Many soldiers simply left their units, and police officers went home. The disappearance of the state and party institutions left the country open to a wave of looting and disorder, exacerbated by organized sabotage.

Although coalition military planners had hoped to use some Iraqi army units for security and reconstruction tasks, the armed forces had effectively “self-demobilized,” and their infrastructure was devastated both during combat and during the looting that followed the collapse of the regime. Coalition officials also decided that it would be unconscionable to retain any of the secret police agencies that were so heavily associated with Saddam’s regime.

to be continued ...

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