Losing the Peace, Pt. 1

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Jessica's Well has posted two retoactively hilarious pieces from Life in 1946 about how the U.S was "losing the victory in Europe." The main article was written by the eminent novelist John Dos Passos (whose journey from far left to hard right is one of the more stunning and fascinating ideological shifts among major 20th century writers) and is chock full of doom and gloom.

Whether you were for or against the invasion of Iraq (I was against it), the Life stories are well worth reading and they do indeed provide sly commentary on how the press is dealing with the situation in postwar Iraq. While it's not clear that most of the media was against the war (at least at the time it started), there's every reason to believe that coverage is biased in favor of bad news over good. This is simply the foreign correspondent's equivalent of the old "if it bleeds, it leads" formula. Explosions make for better TV and stories than do shots of what, electric generators being rebuilt.

[Link via Instapundit]

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  1. Well, as one of the respondents on that blog has pointed out, the Marshall Plan didn’t exist until 1947; one might safely argue that in 1946 the situation was a bad one, but that it was later fixed. However, there is nothing unnecessarily gloomy, nay-saying, or wrong with someone saying in 1946 (or 2003), “Something needs to be done correctly.”

    Thus the argument of reasonable people who take fault with Bush administration’s handling of Iraq: one needs a plan, to prevent Iraq from collapsing into civil war, that is more sophisticated than 140,000 troops holding the place together. Otherwise, the victory is lost.

  2. It’s not just the media prefer bombs over rebuilding. It’s also in the middle of a problem it’s hard to tell what direction things are going. Every rational person understood the post-war period would be unsettled and tricky. But you can’t expect the punditry to say “let’s sit back a few years and see how it turns out.”

  3. TJ – I can assure you, the Bushies have a plan that amounts to more than quartering 140,000 troops in Iraq.

    Evidence of that plan can be seen in the fact that utilities and other services are at or above pre-war levels, local councils are being set up all over the country, and Bremer’s announcement that Iraq is on track to have elections next year.

    We are far, far ahead of the where we were in Europe 6 months after the end of WWII. This should give those predicting failure some pause.

    More important than any plan could ever be, though, is the intelligence and flexibility of our occupation and civil restoration forces. Planning can, and often is, an impediment to success in the field. People who carp about the lack of planning tend to be bureaucrats with little direct experience with the complexity of the real world. Success comes more from bottom-up intelligence and flexibility, than from three ring binders fedexed from the head office.

  4. RC

    Although some, or many, Iraqis are probably most annoyed at the breakdown of a reasonably comfortable life (and I cannot blame them for that), I do not think anyone can advance a strong claim that merely providing a comfortable life will be enough to stave off large-scale civil unrest. It’s hard to believe that many guerillas are fighting over not being able to watch TV.

    Religion and nationalism, the great vices of antiquity and the post-Enlightenment eras respectively, are the source of my insecurities about the situation in Iraq. The Sunnis enjoyed the Iraqi nationalism enforced upon the land by the British, because it left them in charge. The Shia, the Marsh Arabs, and the Kurds, one suspects, did not. I suppose the real plan ought to be concerned with undoing the great idiocies that transpired at Versailles in 1918. Maps of artificial nations were drawn up, specific ethnic groups singled out for leadership and others slighted, and a century of warfare was unleashed.

    To win the peace in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter, Western powerbrokers of today need to recognize the idiocy of their forebearers, and redress those wrongs. Turning the lights back on won’t help.

  5. I am of the opinion that we did loose the peace for that half of Europe behind the iron curtain.

    As for Iraq, 6,000 years of history says that the foreign invaders will eventually leave with their tail between their legs and civil unrest will erupt in their wake.

  6. TJ,

    As I recall, Versailles was largely the result of one of the winners (France) wanting its pound of flesh from one of the losers (Germany).

    Fuckin’ frogs and krauts fuck things up again.

  7. Thus the argument of reasonable people who take fault with Bush administration’s handling of Iraq: one needs a plan, to prevent Iraq from collapsing into civil war, that is more sophisticated than 140,000 troops holding the place together.

    What makes you think it doesn’t have one? Let me ask you this: in what way does it serve the interests of United States to publically announce whatever long-term plan we have?

    As you yourself concede, the main problem facing Iraq right now is the Sunni/non-Sunni friction. Any plan for dealing with this isn’t going to be the kind of thing you just announce out loud, because whatever you announce is 100% guaranteed to piss off a lot of people.

    It seems to me that the sensible thing to do is what we’re doing: make the country economically and infrastructurally stable while using our (and other countries’) military to prevent violence from boiling over. Peace, democracy, and capitalism are addictive; once people see the benefits, they won’t want to give them up.

    And in any case, we’ll have a large military force sitting in Iraq for the forseeable future — they’ll just switch from being “occupiers” to being “stationed” there, as they are in Japan and Germany today. That will keep things from boiling over, too.

  8. “This is simply the foreign correspondent’s equivalent of the old “if it bleeds, it leads” formula. Explosions make for better TV and stories than do shots of what, electric generators being rebuilt.”

    Yes, just as “Saddam may have germs, gas, and nukes” makes for better TV than “But probably not.”

  9. Tom from Texas,

    Taking it back a step further, Versailles was the result of the UK and US governments maneuvering their people into a continental war, instead of allowing either a negotiated peace or a German victory. Both outcomes would have been preferable to what actually happened. The German Empire would have survived as a moderate counterbalance to the Brits’ global power, and the combination of WW’s I and II would never have turned the US into a world hegemon with a mixed economy and a permanent national security state.

  10. Tom from Texas,

    Taking it back a step further, Versailles was the result of the UK and US governments maneuvering their people into a continental war, instead of allowing either a negotiated peace or a German victory. Both outcomes would have been preferable to what actually happened. The German Empire would have survived as a moderate counterbalance to the Brits’ global power, and the combination of WW’s I and II would never have turned the US into a world hegemon with a mixed economy and a permanent national security state.

  11. Dan,

    The U.S. government may have a plan, but “we” certainly don’t have one if the U.S. government doesn’t allow YOU or ME to know what it is.

  12. Point taken, Kevin, though could you elaborate on how a mixed economy is a bad thing.

    But even with a German victory (second time over France in 50 years) and the Tsar still on the throne in Russia (fighting bookend losing wars in barely a decade), at some point Europe still would have come to another boiling point. Quite possibly, there would have been a replay of the Commune, with Lenin and Trotsky planting their roots in soil fertilized by the blood of the Communards. Just think, a Marxist France battling the autocracies and the western democracies in a veritable rematch of Valmy…

    Oh, come on. Can’t we pin the blame on the frogs for all this mess? Please?

  13. “Point taken, Kevin, though could you elaborate on how a mixed economy is a bad thing.”

    Heh. You must be new here.

  14. hoping that the naieve question thought mixed meant industrial/agricultural/service and not gov getting in the middle…

    if the latter.. boy are you in for a surprise mr texas

  15. Warren:

    As for Iraq, 6,000 years of history says that the foreign invaders will eventually leave with their tail between their legs and civil unrest will erupt in their wake.

    Uh, you do know that we are talking about Iraq here, right? Its history contains numerous periods of lengthy foreign occupation, including many centuries of Persian rule by various dynasties, centuries of Turkish rule by various dynasties, and a brutal and thorough conquest by the Mongols that led to the Il Khanate for another long period (Muslim but definitely not Arab).

    And then came the Ottomans, who hung around for a while (nearly half a millenium) in case you didn’t know. Then the Brits.

    Frankly, the last few decades have been the only ones in a very, very long time during which Arabs have been in control of Iraq. Unfortunately for simplistic ideologies, this period was probably the most horrifying for the inhabitants since the early Mongol conquest.

    Perhaps you were thinking of Aghanistan.

  16. Actually, France was the most belligerant party at Versailles, along with Belgium (remember the Germans enslaved several hundred thousand Belgians for labor camps in WWI – no this is not a typo). France was most interested in keeping the Germans weak, not the US or the UK. For obvious reasons; the ravenous “huns” had just ravaged France for the second time in a fifty year period. In fact, France’s entire foreign policy from 1871 onward was an effort to create strategic alliances to protect France from what it knew was an inevitable invasion by the Germans. It scored a diplomatic coup over the Germans due to the 1905 Moroccan crisis; which had been engineered by the Germans to isolate France. Instead France was able to enlist the support of even the US in that affair. Such efforts proved eventually profitable to France, as it forged links with Britain (remember France and Britain had almost come to blows over the Fashoda crisis just before the 1905 Moroccan crisis) and the US for the coming wars with Germany. That France successfully broke Britain’s policy of not creating alliances with continental powers was also substantial; and that France was able to tease apart Bismark’s alliance with the Russians was also important.

    Tom From Texas,

    You are just jealous that we have two-hundred and fifty six varieties of cheese. 🙂 BTW, if you think a Marxist France was a reality in France after WWI you are out of your fucking mind. The French countryside would have never stood for it; French agriculturalists are quite fond of their privately owned land.

    “…at some point Europe still would have come to another boiling point.”

    What? Are you Hegel? Or Marx? Please, keep your filthy deterministic non-sense to yourself.

  17. Dan,

    “What makes you think it doesn’t have one? Let me ask you this: in what way does it serve the interests of United States to publically announce whatever long-term plan we have?”

    So to sum up, “He has a secret plan to end the war.”

  18. I’ve been following the reconstruction of Iraq on-line and in The Economist. It’s true that there is some good news that doesn’t get on TV, there’s lot’s of bad news that doesn’t either.

    As for people saying it’s better than it looks, that’s worthless without specifics. It could just be people surprised that they spent some days in country without being personally shot at. It’s the familiar problem of people having trouble thinking statistically.

    There’s really no possibility of the U.S. “failing”. Just as in Vietnam, we can keep our troops there as long as we are willing to keep pouring in blood and money. The real question is, how much blood and money is it worth to keep U.S. puppets in charge of Iraq?

  19. david f,

    The French fear of German aggression even colored the post-WWII peace. France insisted that Britain and the US keep soldiers deployed on German soil for example; and there was a great deal of resistance from Paris when the US decided to create a independent government in West Germany.

    The Soviets themselves feared a resurgent Germany; one of the reasons they kept a hold of East Germany.

    In the end France had more to fear from the Soviets, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, than from the Germans, but predicting a repetition of events was not really insane. I’ve always assumed that the four million Germans slaughtered in WWII taught them a lesson; that and the occupation and destruction of their cities.

  20. I’m going to expand a little. In addition to the bleeds/leads bias, there is a familiar bias against foreign news of any kind. U.S. troops getting hurt and killed in Iraq is what U.S. audiences care about. The rest of what’s happening in Iraq, good and bad, doesn’t get much coverage because the audience isn’t interested.

  21. david f,

    Such is what one gets with a Clauswitzian worldview. 🙁

  22. Jean Bart,

    Re: Marxist France after WWI.

    Wasn’t the Commune largely a Parisian phenomenon that was brutally put down by the “Versailles” Republican troops, drawn mainly from the countryside specifically because they detested the Parisians?

    Rather than a Post-WWI Marxist France, any thoughts on a France split by a left-right civil war, as Germany was in 1919?

  23. Tom From Texas,

    Now that scenario is more concievable; of course as the French army in WWI was largely made up of men from the countryside, any Parisian leftist revolt would have been met with the French army’s resistance. The cult of ruralism was at a highpoint in the inter-war period because so many French rural people died in the war. Vichy attempted to exploit these feelings during the occupation as well.

    The commune refused to accept a German victory in the Franco-Prussian war; thus the siege of Paris for almost six months. Areas of southern France also held out for that as long as well. Unfortunately the bulk of the French army had already been defeated on the field. A surprising event, as the French military had been very successful under Napoleon III up to that point. Unfortunately this success had come in small wars, with the professional wing of the French military; as a major conscript army it had never been trained and tested as the Prussians/Germans had been.

    French military reform from 1871 onward was based on dealing with this problem; the success at the first battle of the Marne I think was indicative of the reform’s success.

  24. Jean Bart,

    While I imagine there are still some memories of Vichy that are pretty raw, being within living memory, is there any residue of the 1870 “debacle”
    (Zola introduced me to the entire subject as a boy) and the Commune still clogging French arteries, as is the case with the American Civil War?

    I am acquainted with a member of the local Daughters of the Confederacy chapter who, in Anno Domini 2003, refuses to use either pennies or $5 bills, as they bear they portrait of the South’s Great Satan, Abe Lincoln.

  25. JB:

    Interesting discussion of WWI. Thanks.

  26. “You are just jealous that we have two-hundred and fifty six varieties of cheese.”

    yes, M. Bart, but how many of those cheeses come in “pizza” flavor and get jettisoned out of a pressure can.

    ’nuff said.

    🙂

    don’t forget about Wilson’s desire for the L of N, and his lack of bringing any opposition to the peace talks. he did a great job of antagonizing the repbs.

    this is the same guy who resegregated fed offices in 1913…

    avec fromage,
    drf

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