Home Muslim culture Nation building in Afghanistan, Iraq was never going to work

Nation building in Afghanistan, Iraq was never going to work


As usual, after World War I, the victors looted the losers, especially the German. The victors demanded the payment of enormous reparations; under a single shot, the German charges would have continued until 1988. This shot turned out to be catastrophic, partially laying the groundwork for the even more gruesome carnage of WWII.

Learning from this mistake, American leaders in 1945 did things differently. Instead of looting, they took the radical and unprecedented decision to rehabilitate defeated countries like the United States.

This innovation has turned out surprisingly well; as hoped, Germany, Japan, Austria and Italy became free, democratic and prosperous. (It also inspired a 1959 Peter Sellers comedy, The Mouse that Roared, in which an impoverished microstate declares war on the United States to benefit from its largesse.)

Funding defeated enemies also became an assumed, if not routine, American policy and became known as the Pottery Barn rule: “You break it, you own it.” In 2001-03, when US-led coalitions toppled two hostile governments, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Americans of course occupied those two countries, rewrote their constitutions, armed and trained their forces. , nurtured new leaders and showered them with money.

But 2001-03 differed fundamentally from 1945 in very important ways.

First, the Germans and the Japanese were crushed by total wars lasting many years, destroyed by years of widespread carnage, humiliated by prolonged occupations, and defeated as peoples. These blows led to acquiescence to the post-war overhaul of their societies and cultures. In contrast, the Afghans and Iraqis came out almost unscathed from their wars with America that lasted only weeks and fought to overthrow hated tyrants while claiming the fewest civilian casualties. Barely damaged after brief hostilities, they felt more liberated than defeated and were in no mood to be told what to do by the occupying forces. Determined to shape the future of their country, the Afghans and Iraqis took what served them from their overlords and rejected, through violence and other forms of resistance, what they did not do.

Second, Americans fought for the supreme issues of WWII – their independence and freedom; losing this war would have had incalculable consequences for the United States. In contrast, the stakes in Afghanistan and Iraq were limited, relating simply to a few rarefied foreign policy objectives; naturally, Americans cared much less about the future of these countries. As a result, the efforts of 1945 to impose the American path far exceeded those of 2001-03.

Third, Germany and Japan had no neighbors who continued the conflict in 1945: no radio station broadcast propaganda, no weapons were smuggled, no guerrillas infiltrated, no suicide bomber ‘was attacked. In contrast, Iran is to the west of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east; Syria lies to the west of Iraq and Iran to the east, and all three countries have actively fought American influence. The return of the Taliban is a testament to their obvious success.

Fourth, as predominantly Muslim peoples, Afghans and Iraqis intensely reject the power of non-Muslims, an attitude rooted in the very nature of Islam, the most political of religions. Living in full accord with the sacred laws of Islam, Sharia requires that the ruler be a Muslim because Sharia includes difficult to enforce public precepts (regarding taxation, justice, war, etc.) that only a Muslim would put fully implemented. . So whether in medieval or modern times, whether by Christians, Jews or Buddhists, the reign of non-Muslims ends up arousing intense resistance.

These factors have prompted almost anyone familiar with the history of the United States and the Middle East (with the unfortunate exception of Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami) to quickly predict that “the great aspirations of the coalition for [Afghanistan and] Iraq will not succeed.
Americans must recognize both the unusual – if not unique – circumstances that made the rehabilitation of Axis enemies possible in 1945 and the fact that these circumstances will rarely recur. Rather than assuming that every enemy can, with enough effort, time, and money, become a friend and ally, now is the time for Washington to limit itself to more modest aspirations, like ending the enmity and avoid the totalitarian regime. With this in mind, in 2004 I proposed a strong man with a democratic spirit for Iraq, someone who would take control and then, over time, move the country towards political openness.

The same lesser ambition applies to most future defeated enemies because, as Voltaire observed, “Better is the enemy of good.” It is time to move on; it is no longer 1945.

• Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is Chair of the Middle East Forum.

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