Holding the Government Accountable

The High Costs of Occupation and Insurgency, Then and Now

According to our friend Steve Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists, on March 23 a Congressional Research Service paper revealed (pdf) that three years' worth of US post-invasion aid to Iraq is currently on par with seven years worth of post-World War II US aid to Germany—and "nearly double that provided to Japan" for the same period. The CRS report also parses some of the differences between the post-WWII occupations of Japan and Germany and the current occupation of Iraq. Key among them, CRS notes, is that Iraq "faces an insurgency that deliberately sabotages the economy and reconstruction efforts, whereas there were no resistance movements in either Germany or Japan."

But Congress—or any interested party, for that matter—didn't have to wait until now for a comparative study on that point, as it was done with an eerie degree of prescience by astute military academics before the war. On March 19, 2003, Jason Vest—our newest investigator and POGO's first Mintz-Burnham Fellow—broke the story about two neglected pre-Iraq Army War College reports, including the sobering "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." (Military historian Max Hastings also recalls it in a recent Guardian article.) Worth revisiting from Vest's article:

While the administration has often tried to describe a post-Saddam Iraq as something akin to post-war Germany and Japan, the paper notes that an entire army staff was dedicated to planning for post-war occupation two years before the end of World War II. In the case of Iraq, similar foresight has not been exercised. And while General Douglas MacArthur "had the advantage of years of relative quiet to carry out his programs" in a post-war Japan that unconditionally surrendered, this occupation will be taking place in the Middle East, one of the most volatile regions in the world...It would take only a handful of terrorists, the report says, "to attack U.S. forces in the hope that they can incite an action-reaction cycle that will enhance their cause and increase their numbers."

Related reading from Vest: His April 2004 story on a similarly prophetic internal Coalition Provisional Authority document, and his piece in last year's July/August edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that highlights a November 2003 close-hold US Army intelligence report from Iraq on how occupation forces were exacerbating the nascent insurgency. And, vis a vis comparative study of post-war resistance movements, worth another look is Daniel Benjamin's great 2003 Slate piece on the ahistorical attempts of Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice to equate anemic Nazi "werewolves" with ascendant Iraqi insurgents.

[Post-Script: While the CRS report is useful, we were hoping for a seriously detailed then-versus-now analysis of cost-plus contracting. Alas, on that score, this is as good as it gets: "Much of the political and social welfare institution-building assistance that is being provided by U.S. contractors in Iraq now was either not provided in the cases of Germany and Japan, was paid for by those countries (which made payments to the United States for occupation costs), or was done by occupation troops or others whose salary costs were not calculated."]