Friday, February 23, 2007

Germany and Iraq, Part 3

[posted by Callimachus]

Is it necessary to lay out the evidence that the Americans entered Germany in 1945 with no solid plan for occupation, unrealistic expectations of what they would find, and conflicting goals for their mission? I'm not aware of any modern history of the period that says otherwise.

Here's a standard summary, from a book published in 1982:

Scholarship in recent years has pointed to a general muddle on the part of U.S. agencies involved in planning the German occupation. The problem started at the highest level with President Roosevelt's reluctance to prepare for an occupation during wartime, a reluctance that increased as his health declined. Lacking presidential leadership, several government agencies adopted widely differing positions, ranging from openly reconstructionist policy at the State Department to a punitive, destabilizing scheme at Henry Morgenthau's Treasury Department. Given the failure to reconcile these differences, America's forces entered Germany without a coherent national policy, a situation that reduced the chances for cooperation among the victor nations. [James F. Tent, "Mission on the Rhine"]

The president "failed to establish clear guidelines for his policymakers. The War Department supported neither side consistently, seeking above all to minimize its role in the future occupation." The writings of some of the people highly placed in the occupation project are flush with moral idealism and transformational progressive thinking would be worthy of any modern neo-con. JCS 1067, the eventual declaration of U.S. purpose and tactics in occupied Germany, was "ambiguous."
Secretary Morgenthau was convinced that it embodied his approach. State and War Department officials had inserted certain loopholes, which they expected would allow a positive approach. Thus VE Day -- May 8, 1945 -- found Americans still lacking a consensus on postwar plans for Germany.

Osmer White, the Australian journalist who covered the fall of Hitler from inside the U.S. military, essentially disliked Americans and American ways. He seems to have found himself instinctively sympathetic to the Soviet economic system, though not to Stalin's totalitarian ways. But there is the ring of hard truth in his description of the American occupation, and it is borne out by other testimonies, including some from the men actually in charge.

Of all the occupying Powers, the Americans showed themselves the most inept at the business of governing a conquered country. They maintained little or no continuity of policy. They never succeeded in making up their minds whether they wanted to administer stern justice or indulge Christ-like charity. They did not, indeed, make up their minds about anything except the 'superiority' of their own intentions. Germans must be ruthlessly disciplined into loving and respecting liberty. They must be punished for their crimes as a nation, but innocent women and children must on no account suffer. German industrialists who were guilty of warmongering and supporting Hitler must be dispossessed, but on no account should collective ownership -- Communism -- be the result of that dispossession. The American Military Government must not involve the United States in the messy byways of European politics, but Europe must, of course, be prevented at all costs from going Red!

Desperate to feed civilians in a region swollen by refugees from the East, the Americans turned to men who had held senior positions in the Nazi food distribution office. Seeking indigenous leadership to manage the local affairs of the German states that fell under their control, the Americans turned to members of pre-1933 conservative Catholic parties. But, while not National Socialist, many of them had formed alliances with them in a shared fear and loathing of the communists, and some had voted for the act enabling Hitler to take complete control of Germany.

In each case the home front press howled. But in each case it's hard to see a cleaner path through the conflicting goals and tactics of such an occupation. Certaibnluy anyone who tried to think through a better plan for Iraq in our times will recognize the conundrum:

  • Rebuild the physical infrastructure of the country -- but don't give too many contracts to the few multinational corporations who are capable of doing the job, and which have extensive political connections;

  • Put an "Iraqi face" on the reconstruction -- but only hire the most competent people to do the work to avoid waste and minimize boondoggles;

  • Remove all Saddam's toadies from their jobs -- but don't alienate the Sunni minority from which they largely were drawn;

  • Get the job done as fast as possible, the sooner to end the occupation -- but don't waste a penny of the taxpayers' money;

  • Crack down on lawlessness and disorder and sabotage -- but don't do anything that could be seen as cruel or overzealous by our friends or look bad on Al-Jazeera.

As White wrote:

The unhappy executives of this American 'policy' in Germany were set to work for the achievement of all these inimical aims, vigorously and simultaneously; but as soon as they made progress in one direction, they were instantly restrained by torrents of criticism that they were making no progress in the other direction.

As Lucius D. Clay, U.S. military proconsul in Germany after the surrender, later put it: "Even Washington didn't really know what it wanted."

[to be continued]

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