James Jay Carafano: A Good Peace Can Follow a Bad Occupation

Roundup: Historians' Take

James Jay Carafano, in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation (July 13, 2004):

... Although occupation is an inevitable task in any successful military conflict, it is one that arguably receives little attention from the public, policymakers, or the military itself. One has only to compare the scope of scholarship on the battles of World War II with the post-war occupation period.3 There appear to be signs that lack of historical memory plays a role in the public perception of operations. In both the Iraq and Afghanistan operations there are abundant signs that public expectations have been far from realistic--despite warning before the wars that the operations would likely be protracted and difficult.4

In part, such warnings may have carried less weight because the prospects for these operations are so unpredictable that any assessments--no matter how optimistic or gloomy--are always suspect.5 Before the battle, everyone wants clear answers on what lies ahead, but there are few military activities more difficult than predicting the end state of a conflict.6 Prior to the onset of post-conflict operations, it is unlikely that the military can provide firm assessments about the cost, character, or duration of an occupation.

Once operations are underway, expectations that post-conflict activities will be smooth, uncomplicated, frictionless, and non-violent are equally unrealistic, as are assumptions that because difficulties do emerge they can only be the result of grievous policy errors or strategic misjudgments. After all, the enemy gets a vote, and how indigenous opposition forces or outside agitators choose to defy the occupation authorities will, in part, determine the course of events. In post-war Germany, for example, the poor organization and subsequent collapse of planned Nazi opposition made the Allies' task of reinstituting civil order significantly easier. The Office of Strategic Services, for example, estimated that the Allies would face a guerrilla army of upwards of 40,000--an assessment that proved wildly inaccurate.

Additionally, it is often forgotten that there is a "fog of peace" that is equally as infamous as Clausewitz's "fog of war"--which rejects the notion that outcomes can be precisely predicted or that there is a prescribed rulebook for success that any military can follow.7

Yet as conditions in occupied Iraq worsened and Bush Administration officials tried to draw parallels to the difficulties of the post-war occupation of Europe to illustrate the difficulties often faced after the battle, they were excoriated for being unhistorical.8 In fact, post-war conditions in Europe were far from sanguine. For example, the displaced populations in post-war Europe (upwards of 14 million by some counts) in conjunction with shortages of food, lack of suitable housing, ethnic and racial tensions, and scarcity of domestic police forces created significant public safety and physical security concerns.9

Pre-war assumptions are a poor yardstick for measuring post-conflict performance. The current debate over planning for the number of forces to support the occupation in Iraq offers a case in point. Initial projections for occupation troops were between 75,000 and 100,000.10 Some skeptics, including the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, suggested that several hundred thousand would be needed for the occupation.11 The actual troop levels during the occupation have ranged from about 125,000 to 160,000. Critics have pointed to these lower force levels as a significant contributing factor in the outbreak of violence. Yet as one pre-war analysis conducted by the U.S. Army War College pointed out, criticizing pre-war projections is unrealistic. Any forecasts of actual troop numbers made before the actual post-war situation develops--the report concluded--are "highly speculative."12 Indeed, claims that force structure estimates were based on historical precedents13 from previous occupations are dubious. Given the diverse conditions and requirements for different operations, drawing useful comparisons appears unrealistic.

Likewise, recognizing that Iraq is a country the size of California with porous borders awash with arms, and a population of about 25 million (with at least 10 million in eight major cities), it is unclear how numbers alone might have made a difference. Considering the scope of the security challenge, 300,000 troops would likely have had just as much difficulty as 100,000. Clearly, more troops would have helped, but numbers by themselves are not a silver bullet solution.

The American public is not alone in lacking a frame of reference for judging progress. The armed forces' appreciation is not much better than that of the public at large. According to Antulio Echevarria, a well-respected Army historian and national security analyst, the American way of war rarely extends "beyond the winning of battles and campaigns to the gritty work of turning military victory into strategic success."14 As a result, while civilian expectations and assumptions are usually wrong, the problems of public misperception are often aggravated by inadequate military preparations. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq may merely offer the most recent cases in point....


7. Manfred K. Rotermund, The Fog of Peace: Finding the End-State of Hostilities (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, November 1999), pp. 47-52.

8. Daniel Benjamin, "Sorry, Dr. Rice, Postwar Germany Was Nothing Like Iraq," Slate, August 29, 2003, at www.slate.msn.com/id/2087768 (June 2, 2004); James Jay Carafano, "A Phony, Phony History," National Review, September 18, 2003, at www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-carafano091803.asp (June 2, 2004).

9. Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945-1951 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), pp. 15-27.

10. See Scott Feil, testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senate, August 1, 2002, at http://www.iraqwatch.org/government/US/HearingsPreparedstatements/feil-sfrc-080102.htm (May 30, 2004).

11. Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Rick, "For Army, Fear of Postwar Iraq," The Washington Post, March 11, 2003, p. A1.

12. Conrad C. Crane and W. Andrew Terrill, Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, February 2003), p. 33.

13. Ibid.

14. Antuilo J. Echevarria II, Toward an American Way of War (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, March 2004), p. v.

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