War Stories

Iraq’s Not Germany

What a 60-year-old Allen Dulles speech can teach us about postwar reconstruction.

Just as Dick Cheney keeps citing mythical links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida as if they were truisms (on the—so it seems—well-founded theory that many people will believe anything if it’s repeated enough times), so Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and other Bush officials keep citing fictitious parallels between conditions in post-Gulf War II Iraq and post-World War II Germany. The point of these parallels is to play down the media reports—or at least the significance—of sabotage, disorder, and guerrilla conflict in present-day Iraq: Similar problems plagued post-war Germany, these officials say, and that country turned out fine.

Historian and former National Security Council official Daniel Benjamin persuasively tore apart the parallels with Germany in Slate two months ago. Joshua Micah Marshall, in his blog, has been making merry with Wall Street Journal columnist (and Bush partisan) John Fund’s more recent comparison of Iraqi guerrillas to the pathetic handful of island-bound Japanese who kept fighting after the emperor surrendered.

A new fragment of history, just now unearthed, is sure to reinvigorate this pedagogic campaign. The next issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, due out in a couple of weeks, contains a transcript of an off-the-record speech that Allen W. Dulles made at the Council on Foreign Relations on Dec. 3, 1945—just seven months after V-E Day—about the then-current state of the Allied occupation of postwar Germany. Dulles, who later became director of the CIA, had been an Office of Strategic Services station chief during the war, the main U.S. liaison with the German resistance, and was now a high-ranking on-the-ground observer of the occupation’s early stages. The Council on Foreign Relations, back then, was an elite club; an off-the-record meeting was a session of peers; confidence could be assured, candor could be assumed.

Some of Dulles’ remarks at this meeting have striking parallels with present-day Iraq. “I am inclined to think that the problems inherent in the situation are almost too much for us,” Dulles says at one point. “The problem of Germany very nearly defies a successful solution,” he says at another. A few of his examples: The local economy has “scraped the bottom of the barrel.” Industries are idle. Key roads and bridges are impassible. Competent people who aren’t tainted by Nazi Party membership are nearly impossible to find. “Sound familiar?” you can almost hear Rumsfeld asking, with a raised eyebrow, as he recites the passages on the Sunday talk shows.

In some respects, Rumsfeld would have a point. Germany 1945 and Iraq 2003 certainly have this in common: Nobody at the time could know what would happen next or where the nation would end up—whether there would even be a nation in any politically meaningful sense. It was too soon to say in post-Nazi Germany. It is too soon to say in post-Saddam Iraq.

However, that’s about as far as the likenesses go. In most other respects, the contrasts outweigh the similarities.

Rumsfeld and Rice will certainly frown when they read this passage from Dulles’ remarks: “There is no dangerous underground operating [in Germany] now, although some newspapers in the United States played up such a story.” So much for the two Bush officials’ claim—at a VFW Convention in San Antonio last August—that postwar Iraq’s guerrillas are very much like the ex-SS officers who called themselves “werewolves” and terrorized postwar Germany in a rampage of looting, sabotage, and revenge killings. The Dulles speech adds one more confirming bit of data to Daniel Benjamin’s argument that the werewolves, as he put it, “amounted to next to nothing.”

Beyond the rhetorical point, this absence of a “dangerous underground” is the single biggest difference between postwar Germany and postwar Iraq—the single biggest reason to dismiss the whole notion of a parallel.

But there is more. One significant obstacle in the rebuilding of Germany was that a huge debate was still raging in U.S. political circles over whether Germany should be rebuilt at all. Henry Morgenthau, the treasury secretary, was proposing a policy of “pastoralization,” which would block any revival of its industries, on the grounds that German reindustrialization would inevitably lead to remilitarization. And so, Dulles notes that the occupying U.S. soldiers weren’t repairing war-ravaged factories “since the Army feels certain it would be criticized for ‘restoring the German war potential.’ ” This, obviously, is not an obstacle to making repairs in Iraq.

It should also be noted that Dulles gave this talk two years before foreign aid and investment began to pour into Germany. The Marshall Plan was not announced until March 1947. Congress didn’t pass the Economic Cooperation Act, which put the plan into motion, until April 1948. The Marshall Plan poured $13.3 billion into all of Western Europe from 1948-51. West Germany received only $1.4 billion (the equivalent today of $8.5 billion, adjusted for inflation). By this measure, postwar Iraq has already received more aid than postwar Germany ever did, making even more dubious any comparison between the two countries *. Yet the danger and disorder in Iraq are, in many ways, more severe.

Germany nonetheless recovered as fully as it did, in large part, because the country had substantial experience with capitalism and, though more briefly, democracy. It was a Western nation long before Hitler; it required only a restoration, not a transformation, to become a Western nation after Hitler. The same cannot be said of Iraq before Saddam.

Rumsfeld and Rice, however, would do well to ponder some of Dulles’ prescriptions for how to get the war-torn country back on its feet. “I think it may well become necessary for us to change the form of our occupation,” Dulles says. He recommends quartering American troops “outside of the cities, lest their presence create a talking point for German propaganda against the occupation.”

Dulles also implies that the occupation should serve local businesses. “We tried hard to find financial advisers,” he says, “but most of the bankers who had been in Germany in the Twenties and Thirties had by this time been liquidated.” The point here—which Dulles seems to have considered so obvious that he didn’t need to spell it out as a premise—is that the occupation authority first sought to reinstall and re-empower German financiers. There was no thought—as seems to be the Bush administration’s first instinct—of bringing in American corporations to run the joint (and signing contracts for 10 times the money that long-established Iraqi firms have offered to charge for the same project).

“Germany ought to be put to work for the benefit of Europe and particularly for the benefit of those countries plundered by the Nazis,” Dulles says. “If we do not find some work for the Germans … the Germans will have their revenge in one form or another though it takes a hundred years.” The Germans didn’t take their revenge because the occupation authority, in effect, took Dulles’ advice. If the present-day occupation authority were to follow the gist of his advice—substituting “Iraq” for “Germany,” “Baathists” for “Nazis,” “the Middle East” for “Europe”—maybe, 50 or 100 years from now, the Iraqis won’t choose to take their revenge either.

Correction, Oct. 20, 2003: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly stated that West Germany received $13.3 billion of aid between 1948 and 1951. The Marshall Plan sent $13.3 billion to Western Europe during that period; $1.4 billion of it went to West Germany. (Return to the corrected sentence.)