Blogs > Cliopatria > His Dissertation Warned Against Failed Occupations ... So What Happened?

Aug 27, 2007 1:36 am


His Dissertation Warned Against Failed Occupations ... So What Happened?



[Mr. Bray is a graduate student in history at UCLA. His blog may be viewed here. ]

Eric Edelman is the Douglas Feith replacement at the Department of Defense who recently told Hillary Clinton that she had, by asking in a private letter if the military was making plans for an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, helped the enemy. Better yet, Edelman is also the author of a 1981 Yale University dissertation about Allied actions in Italy during and after WWII. That dissertation criticizes U.S. policymakers for -- wait for it! -- incrementalist waffling, an absence of clear and consistent policy goals, and a failure to plan for the aftermath of the invasion. It makes perfect sense that this is the top military policy guy in an administration that now cites Alden Pyle as a role model. Someone obviously cranked the irony knob up to eleven when the rest of us weren't looking, and the fabric of space and time has not yet adjusted.

A rich vein of that irony runs through the whole document, and do feel free to swap the word"Italy" for"Iraq" (and reverse the British and American positions) throughout. I'll hit the highpoints from Edelman's narrative without worrying about the whole long story, which -- never having written 400+ pages about it -- I don't claim to know.

First, the American decision to invade Italy was undertaken with"little or no political planning," Edelman concludes. Why? Ahh, because the State Department was excluded from discussions, and the president had"purposely restricted his retinue to military figures" (8). Also, the British had recognized"the resistance they would encounter in the United States War Department if they advocated an invasion of Italy," and so took care to"discourage the Americans from regarding the decisions as having any political repurcussions." How can an invasion of another country not have political repurcussions? Easy: Because you're not going to stick around afterward."The British had assured the Americans that they were not proposing to assume any obligation to defend or occupy Italy...These British assurances made it easier for the Americans to sweep the political ramifications of military operations directed at Italy under the rug" (8).

Second, the Allies considered the possibility of controlling post-invasion Italy with anti-fascist-regime Italian exiles from the United States and elsewhere. The U.S. State Department offered some names, but the British had their doubts:"The Foreign Office believed that 'emigres count for very little in their own country' and as a result they did not believe that American backing for exiled politicians was desirable" (13-14). Rejecting exiles, the British favored a plan to stabilize Italy under the Italian monarchy. American policymakers were appalled, preferring a government that would take a democratic form, and here comes my favorite quote (with emphasis added):

"This deep-seated belief in democracy dominated American thinking about Italy. The 'democratic' choice of the Italian people became the goal of American policy. Whenever policymakers were pressed to define policy toward Italy, they would repeat, like some ritual incantation, that all question about the reorganization of Italy would have to wait until the Italian people themselves had voted in a free election" (16-17). American politicians are for damn sure good at those ritual incantations, yes.

Not that -- here comes the third irony -- democratic choice would be the only post-invasion question. In 1944, American planners also worked with an eye toward a major power in the environment of any occupied country:"With no clear information military officials hesitated to allow any changes that might jeopardize the cooperation of the Italian armed forces" (160). The British further favored using existing Italian leadership as much as possible, retaining the monarchy (I'm repeating myself) and governing through structures already known to work in the country. As Winston Churchill said,"When I want to lift a pot of hot coffee, I prefer to keep the handle." Churchill was also willing to move slowly and leverage the influence of religious leaders:"Thereafter at leisure we can survey the scene and see what other alternatives are in sight. No doubt the Vatican could play a part in this" (162). (Same page:"The Prime Minister's position was greeted without sympathy by the State Department.")

In short, Edelman writes that American policy in Italy"grew incrementally in response to the rush of events" (492), but along the way was marked by a"halting and sometimes contradictory" involvement (276) in the country's affairs. The resulting mess led to conditions that created" corruption, stagnation, and congenital weakness in the Italian political system" (495). Along with Italy and the Soviet Union, Edelman concludes, the United States shares in the blame.

The abstract frames this all in the most enjoyable way, bad grammar and all:"In the absence of a coherent policy of their own, American confusion and ignorance, the pace of events, and British preconceptions shaped American behavior in Italy during most of 1943."

No coherent policy, confusion and ignorance, preconceptions, little or no political planning, political implications of military action swept under the rug in advance of an invasion, the chanting of ritual incantations about democracy, too much faith in exile leaders, and misguided efforts to govern a country without reference to its established and familiar systems of government: The 1981 Eric Edelman recognizes the folly of all that stuff. (And so, apparently, did one of his faculty mentors, a guy named Donald Kagan.)

The Eric Edelman of 2007 thinks the terrorists will win if we develop war plans.

Wonder what happened in between.


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Barry DeCicco - 8/27/2007

It's been batted around here and there, but by 1943, planning for the post-war occupation of Germany was well underway. Supposedly high-level Army reviews of the mistakes of the post-WWI occupation were underway by 1941.

The reason for this, as it's clear to anybody who cares about history, was that they guys doing the planning didn't want to see their children doing such planning, while their grandchildren were fighting and dying in yet a third world war.

IOW, when something is complex, important and hard to do right, wise men prepare for it. Only fools and knaves refuse to prepare for it.


David Silbey - 8/24/2007

"I guess I have a hard time seeing why postwar occupation governance issues would have gotten much attention in 1943"

Because smart leaders start thinking about issues like that well ahead of time?


Ralph M. Hitchens - 8/24/2007

I guess I have a hard time seeing why postwar occupation governance issues would have gotten much attention in 1943. At the time we were contemplating an invasion, Italy was an Axis ally of Germany and our goal was to bring military force to bear against them. The overriding issue was winning the war, as opposed to the recent invasion of Iraq where the outcome was not in doubt and postwar governance issues were clearly more pressing. Edelman's really, really going deep to prove (I suppose) that Bush & Cheney did no worse than Roosevelt and Churchill.