Guide for the Perplexed Occupier

This study attempts to use historical experience to develop rules for establishing the foundations of an `imposed democratization' policy. Israel's decision-makers should read it with a critical eye.

"America's Role in Nation- Building: From Germany to Iraq" by James Dobbins et al, The Rand Corporation, 244 pages, $35

Let us assume that a democratic state is ruling a country or a population that lacks a Western culture and a democratic regime, and that the occupier, because of its system of values or for utilitarian motives, seeks to westernize and democratize the occupied country or population. The occupier will have to find information on which to base such social architecture, which can be derived from the history of colonialism in the modern era. The problem, however, is that there are few research studies that have processed historical experience in order to generate lessons that can be learned by policy- makers. The reason for the dearth of such studies is that this is a difficult task that demands a careful, in-depth probe of historical processes that must be accompanied by an extraordinary amount of attention to the unique characteristics of each situation. For this reason, "America's Role in Nation- Building: From Germany to Iraq" is so special: It seeks to derive from historical experience a set of rules that can be used to form the foundations for a policy of "imposed democratization."

The book analyzes democratization efforts, the securing of law and order, and nation-building (without sufficient distinction being made between the three topics) with regards to the deployment of American armed forces and, in some cases, through total occupation of eight countries: Germany and Japan following World War II, Somalia after 1991, Haiti after 1991, Bosnia after 1992, Kosovo after 1999, Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, and Iraq from the American offensive until the completion of the writing of the book in 2003.

A comparative study of the efforts made by both the United States and its allies, on the one hand, and of the results of those efforts, on the other, leads to conclusions concerning the preconditions for success (as summed up in chapter 9): a massive military presence (relative to the size of the population), a protracted presence for at least five years, and a very heavy investment of resources (unless the country is developed, as was the case with Germany and Japan). It is also vital to maintain a uniform command together with the partners that are sharing the burden of the occupation.

Another important factor is assistance (or at least noninterference) on the part of neighboring countries. It is recommended that the occupier refrain from bringing too many officials from the former regime to justice, unless the occupier is prepared to maintain a protracted presence and to invest major effort. Additional important conclusions are that the occupier should not be hasty in trying to establish democracy: Instead, it is wiser to begin with local elections and, in some cases, to set up an authoritarian regime and support it until local social conditions are ripe for the introduction of democracy.

Among the secondary conclusions are the following: Educational reform, including the replacement of textbooks, is an important factor; the supply of food to the local population can be a partial alternative to massive troop deployment; the imposition of law and order accompanied by the establishment of a judicial system are preconditions for economic and political development; a political "horizon" - even a long-range one - that the occupied population can learn to live with is vital for success; the faster the initial victory and the less blood that has been shed, the more difficult the process of change will be (because the hard-core social nuclei may not have been crushed); and so on.

Doubtful conclusions

Along with important conclusions that are solidly based on experience accumulated until the war in Iraq, this study also presents some doubtful ones that are not empirically based. For example, the authors argue that there is a negative ratio between the size of the occupying and interventionist military forces, and the number of casualties; yet they overlook the possibility that a large deployment of soldiers could increase the occupier's military casualties. One must label as particularly misguided a conclusion that is repeated several times in the book, according to which an indigenous "culture" is not an obstacle to the introduction of a process of democratization. That conclusion takes no account of the social and psychological conditions necessary for democratization and, it is accompanied by a doubtful argument: "Nation-building is not principally about economic reconstruction; rather, it is about political transformation."

Similarly, there is no discussion whatsoever of the importance of the elimination, or the arrest and subsequent trial, of the leaders of the previous regime who were responsible for situations that necessitated intervention in the form of a "humanitarian war" and even an occupation.

The authors' failure to address cultural-religious, social and psychological dimensions has led to another grievous error: the absence of any allusion to the possibility of guerrilla warfare against American forces in Iraq, although such highly probable scenarios could have been deduced from the French experience in Algeria and Israel's experience in the territories, to name but two examples. Also missing are findings and analyses that could have taught us what will be the short- and long-term ramifications of Saddam Hussein's capture.

Despite the authors' reputations and the many superb features of their methodology, they were unable to free themselves of fundamental assumptions that are deeply rooted in American public and political culture, and according to which all societies and all human beings would be willing and able to become similar to the West if they could just receive assistance in toppling dictators and in eradicating poverty and illiteracy. Although there is no solid evidence that these assumptions are incorrect, there is similarly no evidence that they are correct. Thus, they cannot be used as the foundation for policy, unless that policy is partial and careful, and is adopted with many reservations.

The fact that such an exemplary and influential body concerned with strategic analysis and policy planning as The Rand Corporation uses these cultural blindfolds in understanding political realities raises some highly disturbing questions concerning American policy, including President Bush's declaration of "democratization" as a grand strategy.

Pertinence to Israel

However, instead of criticizing the U.S., I want to study the book's conclusions as they pertain to Israel. One obvious conclusion is that Israel missed a golden, and irretrievable, opportunity to exploit its absolute control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to westernize and nurture a middle class in those territories. Social architectural activities directed toward the attainment of such goals would have been met with considerable opposition and would have meant the utilization of massive resources. However, Israel's occupation would have enabled it to overcome the opposition and the price would have been much lower than the one Israel has been paying since the start of the intifada. There was also the need for presenting a political horizon that the Palestinians could have learned to live with, and there was even a good chance of reaching a peace agreement under conditions that would have been much easier for Israel to accept than those that are possible today.

The past cannot be altered; nevertheless, this book (and similar research studies) have clear-cut implications for the policies that Israel should adopt now and in the future. In order to create the preconditions for a relatively stable peace in the region, a peace agreement is not enough, no matter how "final" it is. It is also vital that a change be generated in Palestinian society in the direction of both Westernization and the development of a middle class, with suitable adjustments made to accommodate the norms of Islamic tradition. Thus, for example, if they had a middle class that had much to lose, the Palestinians would have a strong motive for fighting fundamentalism and preventing not only terrorist acts against Israel, but also the retaliatory operations Israel launches in the wake of those acts. Thus, any peace agreement, even a unilateral arrangement, must be accompanied by social change among the Palestinians - not necessarily in the nature of their political regime but, first and foremost, in their economic and sociocultural structure, which is more important than formal "democratization" and which is the precondition for true democracy.

That would not be an automatic process, because of the cash flow from the international community (which is by no means a certainty) and because of the "natural" interrelationship between a Palestinian state and Israel. To bring about this process, what is needed is a comprehensive strategy, consciously adopted by Israel for the promotion of a profound change in Palestinian society that would also express itself in agreements and in unilateral measures.

This statement holds true, although in a different manner, with regard to Israel's Arab minority. The acceleration of both Westernization and the building-up of a middle class must be the fundamental guideline in a minorities policy capable of preventing highly dangerous developments.

Because of its contribution to an understanding of American policies and especially because of the important ramifications for the policies that Israel should adopt, a careful reading - but also a critical one - of this book is a must for all policy-makers in Israel.

Yehezkel Dror is a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.