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You Are Wrong to Say "Never"

Reader comment on item: Nation-building in Afghanistan, Iraq Was Never Going to Work

Submitted by David Ryan (United States), Sep 20, 2021 at 12:00

Mr. Pipes, you are wrong to say that "nation building" (for absence of a better term) would "never" work in Afghanistan or Iraq, and you even list many steps which have worked in the past which might have worked had they been employed. The most true thing you say, unfortunately is "it's no longer 1945". In 1945 American was prepared to do whatever was necessary to obtain its military and political objectives, even using nuclear weapons. By 1951 (e.g. in Korea) that was no longer the case and hasn't been since.

I'm not suggesting using nuclear weapons.

But you can see the parallel between the ends of World Wars I and II in ways other than the ways you mention, particularly in terms of declining will. After WWI, when Germany defaulted on reparation payments required by the Versailles Treaty, France and Britain moved to militarily occupy Germany's industrial Ruhr area from 1923 to 1925 to compel those payments. By 1936 however, when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in violation of Versailles, the WWI allies did nothing. WWII in Europe was not inevitable because of the consequences of WWI or Versailles. It could have been prevented on any large scale at many junctures had there been a continued will to do so. Even after Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland and mutual declarations of war, France and England had not the will to march into Germany's momentarily depleted rear and take any ground casualties.

This time of desultory wars with "limited consequences" is bound to lead sooner or later to existential threats. There is a coming war with parts of the Islamic world that will have fatal consequences for millions if steps are not taken to prevent it. It is bad enough that Pakistan has 150 nuclear bombs, with their leaders preoccupied with nuclear India. When, not if, Iran produces or acquires nuclear weapons, with its preoccupation with the destruction of Israel and America, and Iran's proven ability to orbit such weapons possibly for a catastrophic electromagnetic pulse attack on America and Europe, a World War III becomes inevitable if the West continues to do nothing or pull its punches.

In a few paragraphs you describe the post-war differences between 1945 and 2001-3 in a way that is a diagnosis of what America now does wrong that it did so right immediately after WWII that is a prescription for dealing with the aftermath of new conflicts. In post-Nazi Germany, the occupying forces carried out an extensive program of denazification, removing from political and private positions those who had supported Hitler's racial and aggressive policies, and in Japan ended emperor worship. Importantly in both cases, the worst offenders were tried and executed. In Afghanistan and Iraq, one can only point to the hanging of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and a few of his henchmen being killed while resisting.

Taking your points, first to fourth, you show how much better America's mindset and actions were in 1945.

First, whether or not the occupied people are in the mood for reform and leaving behind the old ideas that led to war and occupation should not be irrelevant. After removing oppressors like Hitler or Saddam, Japanese imperialists or the Taliban, it must be remembered that only some were oppressed while others collaborated. In Germany and Japan, America and its allies were determined to change the mindset of those peoples before rebuilding. Not only was Germany destroyed during the war, but you must remember that for three years after the war Germany was deindustrialized in both the east and west and left in ruins and on the brink of starvation (the "Morgenthau Plan"). Only the exigencies of the emerging Cold War compelled nation rebuilding of Germany under the 1948 Marshall Plan. Any resistance there was to the allies behind the lines and after the war was dealt with ruthlessly including several thousand deaths and imprisoning 100,000 civilians. The MacArthur regime in Japan executed 1000 former leaders, far more than from the Nuremberg Trials in Germany. In 1945, only America's mood not to be messed with by the defeated enemy counted.

Saying that in Iraq and Afghanistan America "re-wrote their constitutions" is entirely wrong. It did not, as it did for Germany and Japan. After WWII, America and its allies dictated the democratic principles to be included in the new German constitution before the German constitutional committee began drafting. In Japan where General MacArthur ruled nearly absolutely, a constitution written by a Japanese committee which largely mirrored Japan's prewar constitution was torn up by MacArthur and substituted with one written by MacArthur's staff which remains, unamended, Japan's constitution today. On the other hand, Under US occupation, Afghanistan's and Iraq's constitutions were written by native committees with little interference from the occupier. Both constitutions, contrary to American principles, begin by declaring their respective countries Islamic states with no law to contradict Shari'a. Afghanistan shortly after reimposed the law making apostasy from Islam a capital offense. Rather than doing what MacArthur did and say WRONG, start over, the best the American occupying military did in a highly publicized case was to rescue and whisk from the country the first woman so condemned for apostasy. America did not have to accept these illiberal constitutions. It chose to because it had moved on from 1945.

Second, that you say the stakes being higher in WWII and existential while America's existence were not at risk in Afghanistan or Iraq is an excuse for not more strongly pushing the "American Way" in the latter cases does not make sense. In all cases, the wars were over and neither Germany and Japan nor Afghanistan and Iraq were any threat or in a position to resist any American demands or conditions. The reason America forcefully pushed the "American Way" on Germany and Japan but not on Afghanistan and Iraq is far darker. In 1945, America itself believed in the "American Way" but by the 21st Century America had moved on from belief in the "American Way", other than lip service for American public consumption, and deferred to the political devices of those it had conquered, which left much carryover of Islamic baggage and little in the way of liberty or pluralism necessary to peace internally and with other nations.

Third, that Afghanistan and Iraq had neighboring countries harboring and financing continued resistance is entirely the fault of poor American judgement. The murder of nearly 3000 Americans on 9/11 by Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda brought down righteous wrath on the Taliban, running them out of power and the survivors out of the country or underground. And Saddam's support of Palestinian terrorists and resistance to WMD inspections (not necessarily to actual weapons of mass destruction as most suppose) led to his deposition by American forces. But the murder of three times as many American occupation troops, many by border-crossing bomb planters (IED is a stupid way not to say "bomb") from Iran, Syria and Pakistan elicited little response until President Trump's assassination of Iran's insurgent commander General Soleimani long after the fact. And Iran continues its WMD pursuits despite economic sanctions and Israeli efforts at sabotage.

In 2001, Pakistan was explicitly given the choice of assisting in the assault on Afghanistan or "being bombed into the stone age", but with time both threat and cooperation receded. There was an evident strategy to put Iran in a vice between two armies in Afghanistan and Iraq and end Iran's nuclear threat by a war and occupation from two fronts that somehow never happened.

Germany did have allies in WWII, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. All were occupied at the end of the war. The continued resistance would not have been tolerated from any quarter in 1945, even if it were not an existential threat.

Fourth, that Muslim majorities reject rulers of other religions, or even as you did not mention, secular rule, is not a feature of Islam that needs to be accepted and catered to. It is at the root of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was an abdication in the occupation not to force these societies to be constitutionally pluralistic even before becoming democratic which is otherwise defined as 2 wolves and a sheep deciding what is for lunch. It is a principle that allows Islam to thrive in the West while accepting the condemnation of non-Muslims to persecution wherever the Muslim population reaches 51%, including in the United States. It is a deference to a system unthinkable in 1945 America, despite America's treatment of Blacks as second-class citizens at that time. America has so far moved on from 1945 that it desires to be second class to every other religion and political system and cannot assert the good things about the "American Way" even as it acknowledges and corrects its own wrongs of the past.

Diminished ambition has been one of America's major growing flaws from Korea through Vietnam to Afghanistan. It still spends the money and wastes the lives of its soldiers but political correctness nullifies any results. America needs to get back to 1945 in many ways even if not every way.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

Thanks for your thoughts.

Actually, I don't use the word "never"; that's the Washington Times editors who re-titled my article.

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