Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


MAY 2003

The debate about whether American and British forces liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, as the White House claims, or whether we are beginning a lengthy occupation there is an academic question. In reality, Iraq has been freed from Saddam Hussein's rule and will require the presence of U.S. troops for many years..

A military occupation will be required in order to provide internal security and to prevent civil violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and between them and the Kurdish tribes that inhabit northeast Iraq. The Kurds want autonomy from the government in Baghdad, and many of them hope to achieve an independent Kurdish state.

Pentagon civilian leaders proposed months ago that Iraq should be administered initially by the U.S. military commander for the Middle East, General Tommy Franks.

Eventually an interim government representing various ethnic and religious factions will administer the country until a new constitution is approved and representative government is installed in Baghdad. The Bush administration speculates that direct military rule will be needed for at least six months after the current violence stops.

Bosnia is cited as a precedent. But in that case President Clinton sent forces in 1996 to pacify the country, and they are still there.

Experts cite the occupation of Germany after World War II as an example of how Iraq should be administered. But there are significant differences between a post-Hitler Germany and a post-Saddam Iraq. In l945 the victorious allies--the United States, Britain, and Soviet Union--made no pretence about liberating the German people. There was little talk in 1945 of turning the country over to a democratic German government.

On Iraq, however, George Bush and Tony Blair decided early that their objective was removing Saddam's regime and liberating its population. Now Iraqis are trying to decide what liberation means, other than getting rid of a hated dictator. Chaos on the streets of Baghdad and other cities during the last two weeks may be a foretaste of continuing difficulties in bringing order to that defeated country.

A retired U.S. Army officer, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, was appointed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq and create an interim Iraqi administration to run the country. Garner's boss is General Tommy Franks who, in effect, is the military governor for Iraq. British forces are in control of southern Iraq around Basra, and will work with Garner on reconstruction. U.S. troops continue to pacify the central region around Baghdad and the northern area near Mosul.

Another difference between Germany in 1945 and Iraq today is that Germany was divided into four occupation zones with each one administered by a military commander from the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, and France. The formal occupation of Germany lasted four years, but foreign troops remained in the country for many years. In Iraq's case, it will be administered as one occupation zone, with U.S. and British forces sharing the major burdens.

Based on personal experience in postwar Germany, I am convinced that turning over complete control to an elected government in Iraq will not happen soon.. In Germany we dealt with citizens who shared a common heritage and had experience with democracy before Hitler crushed it in 1933. After four years of military government, the United States, Britain, and France relinquished administration of their zones to a new German government headed by Dr. Konrad Adenauer, following adoption of a new constitution for the Federal Republic of Germany. (Moscow established a puppet Communist government in its eastern zone.).

Although military occupation ended in 1949, the United States and Britain retained military bases in Germany.

Iraq, in contrast, is a deeply divided country with no experience in democracy. Its borders were artificially created by Great Britain after World War I when the Turkish Ottoman Empire disintegrated and Britain got a League of Nations mandate to administer the new state. Iraq became independent after World War II, but many experts say it has been held together only by the ruthless dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and his predecessors. In my view, U.S. and allied troops will need to remain in Iraq for many years, perhaps decades, with nation-building their principal preoccupation.

Creating a federated Iraqi state that gives Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Turkish groups regional autonomy while forging a viable central government will be a test of U.S. and British ingenuity and staying power. The financial cost to U.S. taxpayers will be high unless President Bush enlists the support of many countries.

Washington is debating how many troops will be needed to maintain security in Iraq while General Garner and his staff struggle to create of a new constitution and a viable regime exhibiting democratic values. This will require perhaps 150,000 ground troops for two or three years. After that the force could be reduced provided progress is made to install a representative government.

A crucial question is whether the United States has the will, the resources, and the staying power to complete a major restructuring of Iraqi society. And will it accept the long-term role of a hegemonic superpower in the Middle East? In sum, it is not beyond imagination that we may now be entering a new type of cold war in the 21st century.

File last modified on Thursday, 12-AUG-2004 09:00 PM EST

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