Thursday, November 18, 2004

A German Lesson for Remaking Iraq

The astute Anne Applebaum offers a lesson on how we should view Iraq in light of the East German liberation from Communism:
In a week in which U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are fighting one of the bloodiest and most difficult battles of the whole Iraqi conflict, it doesn't sound terribly comforting to write that 'these things take a long time.' But they do, and for Americans accustomed to fast results, it can't be repeated often enough: East Germany is proof that it is possible to do everything right and still leave millions of people feeling cheated by liberation many years later. I don't know whether Iraq will ever be a 'success,' but even if it is, we may not know for several decades. If it was a grave misjudgment to ignore that fact before the Iraqi war began, it would be no less catastrophic to do so now.


Blogger Doc said...

There is a valid point here, certainly. Multiple, actually. The transition from dictatorship to democracy takes time. Anyone who expected the transition to take place quickly was very misguided. (Hence my long-standing opposition to the administration's planning, which offered speculation before the war that the occupation could be completed in as little as 90 days on the assumption that all that was required was to replace Saddam with some other executive.) Applebaum talks about the psychological element. But there is much more to such a transition than just changing the mentality of the people. It requires a top to bottom overhaul of the entire civil apparatus, from the judiciary and legal system through law enforcement all the way to basic administration. It requires re-educating the populace on the mechanics of democracy and on civil responsibilities in a democratic system.

Applebaum says, "the psychological transition to liberal democracy from a regime ruled by fear is one that takes at least one generation, if not two." On this, I would have to somewhat disagree. She uses the example of East Germany. The example of West Germany is quite different. The West, including the Nazi heartland of Bavaria, made the transition from National Socialist dictatorship to burgeoning democracy in five years, and that while literally digging themselves out of the gigantic pile of rubble that was their homeland. All I'm saying is that such a transition might take a long time (generations, as she says), or it could take a relatively short time.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I don't at all see the astuteness in this comparison. West Germany never "occupied" East Germany, and it as far as I know it was more often the West Germans who looked askance at reunification. For this reason (not to mention many others), there was never anything like an East German insurgency. In short, the political conditions could hardly be more disanalogous.

In any case, the "honeymoon" in Germany may be over, but it'll be a longtime beginning in Iraq.

Strange Doctrines

9:28 AM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Of course you can find points of dissimilarity -- that's why it's an analogy rather than an identity.

But your points rather strengthen Applebaum's observation, I think. Even where there was no occupation, and even where there was no insurgency, some people were still discontent after a decade of democratization. This only strengthens the point that we should be patient for success in Iraq, where the difficulties are greater.

12:38 PM  

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