Saturday, January 18, 2014

Comparative Occupation

I was a bit flummoxed yesterday on TV as Todd Van Der Heyden (who cameo-ed in the Channing Tatum White House hostage movie) asked me about Afghanistan as compared to the occupations of Japan and Germany.  I was caught off guard because I thought we had pretty much dispensed with those examples, but I guess I was wrong.  To be fair, the point Todd was making, that 13 years or so is not nearly enough to state-build/nation-build is absolutely right.  International forces are still on Bosnia and Kosovo, and we still have a ways to go with those.

Anyhow, I thought I would come up with a list of how Germany/Japan after World War II are distinct from Afghanistan, as I could only cover a couple of points on TV.
  • Unconditional surrender makes a big difference.  Americans, Brits, Canadians and others were not getting killed after World War II, so the publics and politicians were more patient (although to be fair, the active occupation stuff ended before thirteen years).
  • The neighbors were far more cooperative.... even the Soviet Union.  Sure, there was heaps of spying and perhaps some mild subversion, but the Soviet Union and its bloc were far better neighbors than Pakistan has been.  
  • Both Japan and Germany had industrial bases, while temporarily laid low, that one could build upon.
  • Same with civil society, more or less.
  • Neither Japan nor Germany had twenty years of civil war preceding the occupation.
  • The US was serious and committed from the start in 1945.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government resisted the idea of nation-building, of state-building, of even planning for the day after the fall of Baghdad and perhaps for Kabul as well.
  • Karzai is no Adenauer.
Indeed, rather than most similar comparison, the cases of post-WWII occupation and post-9/11 efforts are really most different comparisons.  Some of the Bush folks looked back on the German/Japanese cases for inspiration--de-Ba'athification--even if they had no clue about how that stuff actually played out.  The post-WWII experience probably gave Americans (and others) a wee bit too much confidence about what the US can do.  Afghanistan and Iraq should diminish American hubris.  At least, I hope so.

To be clear, the US is not becoming isolationist, but it is becoming a bit more aware of its limitations.  That it cannot transform broken Mideast countries the way it helped to bring Germany and Japan both back to their feet and into the world of functioning democracies.  This should not lead us to deeply into paralysis (although it might), but being a bit more wary may not be a bad thing.

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