Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Democratizing Germany

Germany (and its post-war compatriot, Japan) is my favored example when folks lecture me that democracy can not be established during a military occupation, or in a post-war environment, or all the other arguments that swirl around the general contention that THE IRAQ WAR WAS DOOMED FROM THE START AND THERE WAS NOTHING WE COULD HAVE EVER DONE!!!! I mean, it seems rather self-evident that it is, in fact, quite possible to democratize in the wake of war, and it failures to do so are probably due to specific contextual failures rather than with some notion that exporting democracy militarily is inherently flawed.

Anyway, Ilya Somin, guest-blogging at the VC, has an interesting post buttressing the German example and arguing that German history did not make it specially prone to democratic change.
Many critics of efforts to promote democracy in the Muslim world claim that the successful occupation of Germany after WWII is not a relevant precedent because postwar Germans, unlike modern Arabs and Afghanis, supposedly had a strong cultural affinity for liberal democracy. As one of my commenters put it, Germany was "the land of Kant" and therefore (it is implied) highly receptive to liberalism and democracy. This claim is largely a myth.

The truth is that Hitler and Goebbels were much more reflective of German opinion in the immediate post-WWII years than Kant. According to a series of surveys conducted by the US occupation authorities in 1951-52, 41% of West Germans saw "more good than evil" in Nazi ideas, compared to only 36% who said the opposite. In a 1949 survey, 59% of West Germans said that National Socialism was a "good idea badly carried out," compared to only 30% who said that it was wrong. 63% in a 1952 poll said that German generals held on war crimes charges were innocent and only 9% said that they were guilty. Well into the 1950s, large numbers of Germans rejected liberal democracy and expressed sympathy for various forms of authoritarianism. By the time the 1951-52 surveys, were conducted, West Germany had been occupied by the Allies for 6 years, and had had its own democratic government since 1949. Thus, German support for authoritarianism and even for many aspects of Nazism was quite deeply rooted. For these and other survey data from postwar Germany, see Anna J. Merritt & Richard L. Merritt, Public Opinion in Semisovereign Germany (1980).

Indeed, Iraqi and Afghan opinion today is probably more pro-democracy than German opinion in the 1940s and early 50s. For example, a December survey shows 57% of Iraqis expressing support for a democratic form of government, compared to 14% who endorse an "Islamic state" and 26% who support "a single strong leader."

If it worked then, it can work now. The belief that Germany (just because it's European?) was inherently more receptive to the democratic ideology is demeaning to non-white people around the world, who are presented as too primitive or backwards to even have a hope of grasping the abstract ideal of a free and liberal state. And I don't even know how these people even deal with Japan, which underwent a similar militarily-induced transformation from autocracy to democracy without even the concocted "crutch" of being White.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I respect your opinions as well-reasoned and well-supported factually, I frankly don't see the Iraq/Germany/Japan analogy. The U.S. had unquestioned moral authority after Pearl Harbor and Auschwitz. That conflict was not dreamed up in think tanks; it was brought to us. The same may not be said with regard to Iraq. Moreover, it's unfair to suggest that criticism by Iraq war opponents is the result of some sort of thinly-disguised and condescending racism. For my part, I'd feel a lot better about Iraq if the war was sold to us as a nation building exercise and we were permitted an opportunity to debate the prudence of such an endeavor beforehand.

David Schraub said...

I'd have felt "a lot better" were that the case too. And the Bush administration's dreadful incompetence in this war, both in the run up and the execution, cannot be whitewashed. But I do ask--why does Anfal not give us the same legitimacy that Auschwitz gave?

Criticism of the Iraq war is not necessarily thinly disguised racism, but the claim that Iraq is singularly incapable of forming a democracy due to its [ethnic diversity/tendancy toward authoritarianism/status as an occupied country/reason d'jour] does reek of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that you and I agree more than either of us realize. I'd like to believe that if I had seen Auschwitz newsreel footage in the 40's, I would have agitated for intervention. Nevertheless, the fact remains that neither of us had the opportunity to "feel good" about either the decision to go to war in Iraq or its execution (to date), and I don't think it's inappropriate to be at least as concerned about the state of American democracy as that of Iraqi democracy.

Anonymous said...

While I do find some of your points to be legitimate, I think you are grossly over-simplifying this issue by using some poll numbers (who knew how these polls were taken?) and convenient similarities between Iraq and Germany to suggest that democracy is viable in Iraq. Even more incredible is that you don't bring up the fact that Germany did not have the sectarian divisions that Iraq has had. Did either Germany or Japan have a situation where a minority group was brutally oppressing the majority group for decades? Throw in another ethnic group (the Kurds) and you have even more obstacles to building consensus for a government. Also, did Japan and Germany have neighbors who were openly hostile in their attempts to set up a democracy? Iraq's neighbors--Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia--are either overtly, covertly, or subtly trying to sabotage our efforts in Iraq. I don't recall hearing about any French or Polish suicide bombers making things difficult for the Germans at the time.

Even without mentioning these obvious points, there are just a myriad of differences--large or small--between Iraq and Germany/Japan that neither of us can see, so it is illogical to suggest that democracy can work in Iraq just because it worked in Germany and Japan.

jack said...

In addition to the various sectarian divisions mentioned above there are numerous other reasons the Iraq war was indeed "doomed from the start". Given Iraqs location anyone who didn't think Al Qaeda and Iran would get involved, interfere, sponsor and carry out attacks wasn't actually thinking at all. Further, the troops and resources needed for a competant occupation that sets up democracy weren't just missing from the Bush war plan- those troops just don't exist.

Addressing the situation in Japan we remember that Emperor Hirohito was co-opted by General Macarther. At the time he was essentially worshiped as a God. Recall that after the war when Americans stumbled upon Japanese who had lost communication with the mainland the Japanese still fought to the death. If Hirohito had, instead of advocating Democracy and Westernization in Japan, told his followers to resist American occupation every step of the way we might have faces an insurgency in Japan at least comparable to the one in Iraq.

And remember, it isn't that Germany "had Democracy in its blood" its that Germany had ALREADY PRACTICED DEMOCRACY FOR YEARS. Hitler was and elected official.

This has nothing to do with race or culture. For a long time the Muslim world was far more tolerant and progressive than the Christian world. It has to do with geopolitical reality, sectarian division and the presence of civil institutions.

In all seriousness, Iran would have been an easier target for Democratization. (Which isn't to say it would have worked there either)

David Schraub said...

With the exception of the ethnic strife issue (and all the associated problems), I'd say that most of the problems in Iraq did cross-apply to Germany (the ethnic strife problems were shown not to be insurmountable via our Balkans experience). Did Germany have neighbors actively hostile to its becoming a democracy? Why yes, it did: the USSR. Surely, the "God-emperor" co-optation assisted America in Japan (whereas his opposition would have made our job hellish), but there is no comparable "God-figure" in Iraq (damn well isn't Hussein). The closest thing is Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has been a committed democrat. And the prior democratic experience argument is wrong on two levels: 1) Iraq had prior democratic experience in the 20s and 50s, and 2) the Weimar Republic was widely considered to be a disaster, so if anything it probably would have counted as a strike against democracy in the post-war rebuilding process. Somin mentions this point while noting that the pro-democracy sentiment of the Iraq population was actually higher than similar sentiments in post-war Germany.

jack said...

I'd actually think that the USSR presence probably helped Democracy. Post-War Germans HATED the Russians (there were significant atrocities committed on the easten front by the Soviets) and most were vehemantly anti-communist. The bi-polar cicumstances (that divided Germany as well and provided a pretty good visual of what communism meant) threw Germany firmly into alliance with the Democratic Capitalist nations.

The Balkans isn't the best comparison either since there is a lot of evidence that democratization is a lot more effective in former communist countries than former autocracies (Mansfield/Snyder study).

The Weimar Republic had ended just over 10 years before post-war Germany. Thats a huge difference from the 50 year gap in Iraq- a generation difference. When most of the democrats have died of old age you lost a lot of the benefit of having been a Democracy before.

In talking about general support of Democracy your right that the fact Weimar was considered a disaster certainly hurt support for Democracy (thus explaining lower support for Democracy in post-war Germany). But support isn't the only, or even the main, benefit of prior experience with democracy. More important is the experience with Democratic procedure, the existence -at least in form- of Democratic institutions, and the democratic paradigm of negociation and compromise. Those things were present in Germany because of the recent (if unsucessful) experience with democracy but were not present in Iraq.

Can you even explain how a competant administration would have succeeded in this endeavor? Can you draw explicit links from the mistakes the US made to the lack of Democracy and links from your alternative course of action to Democracy? This is what I find so perplexing about this line of argument you (and others) make, theres never more than a very basic explanation of how democratizing could have worked.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the Germany/Japan points. I think the Balkans are a better example(Tito,sectarian groups, militias) that the "Evil Axix" Nazi BS. If the neocons looked at the Balkans instead of their "greeted as liberator" BS, the wars aftermath would be completely different.

The probligo said...

"... but the claim that Iraq is singularly incapable of forming a democracy due to its [ethnic diversity/tendancy toward authoritarianism/status as an occupied country/reason d'jour] does reek of the soft bigotry of low expectations."

You could also have used East Timor as an example if you wished.

There is one "raison du jour" that I have strong agreement with. It points not to the doings of GWB in Iraq, but to the colonial doings of a century and more prior and the hisoty of the intervening years.

To recognise that part, a large part, of the problem that is Iraq is the consequence of racial/cultural/religious differences is not "the soft bigotry of low expectations", it is an honest reflection of reality.

You are right to say that "...because Iraqis are ignorant savages..." is bigotry.

Iraq was not united under Saddam. Iraq was not united under the Shahs. Iraq was not united under British colonial rule. To ignore the fact that Iraq (as it was and is) is an "artificial construct" rather than a united nation is just plain stupid. To try and make the square peg disappear up a round hole is futility indeed.

Each of those three factions would probably succeed very well in making a democracy if the other two were not part of the mix.

Had that been recognised, that the result might be three nations rather than just one, then the task undertaken by the US might well have been a whole lot easier.

Anonymous said...

One other aspect of post-WWII Germany that is critical in understanding its development - 1/3 of the country was effectively carved away from the rest and placed under Soviet control. Konrad Andenauer was a Catholic Rhinelander who loathed the Prussian influence over his country; suddenly, Prussia was removed from the equation, with consequent profound changes in the political power balance in the country. Andenauer may never have achieved what he did if the country had remained united.