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20170805 – War and the Art of Governance



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The main idea of this book is to review the history of American occupation of different countries and their successes and failures. The most attention here allocated to the analysis of bureaucratic planning and relationship between organizations responsible for reconstruction of society, especially between military commanders and civilian administrators. The very important objective here was to look at cases these entities were separate, creating difficulties for military commanders to overcame purely military fighting attitude and switch to attitude of builders and interlocutors with local population.


  1. American Denial Syndrome: Failing to Learn from the Past

This is about contemporary situation when America gets involved in some optional wars like Iran and Afghanistan without clear understanding of end game and being in denial that such end game has political character and requires by far more time and resources than actually winning the war military. Traditionally, in previous wars the settlement was in hands of military commander with little if any interference for political class. However Americans were always uneasy with such arrangement because of their deep antipathy to the notion of standing army. Normally it was tolerated mainly due to the limits on federal government resources and importance of internal politics. However starting with Vietnam professional politicians started intensely interfere limiting military options and trying to impose political and economic solutions. Consequently internal political dynamic started to exceed the need for success of settlement after military engagement. The result was military success followed by slow moving disaster of inability to establish peaceful settlement and low intensity military actions lasting for decades. Correspondingly the focal point of this book is settlement or lack thereof after American war and military victory.

  1. The Early Years: Improvisation

This is a review of early wars when after war settlement was mainly improvisational and conducted by military commanders on site. It starts with brief review of American military development after revolutionary war when army was small and politicians and population generally had negative attitude to the very notion of standing army, allowing its existence only under pressure of circumstances. This attitude mainly lasted up until the early XX century when even small colonial expansions caused significant stress to small military and invoked robust opposition. During all this time any after war settlement activities were conducted by tactical commanders to the best of their ability, which was not that high in civilian affairs, but usually sufficient to achieve decent results good enough to transfer power to civilians.

The Mexican-American War

The outcome of this war was acquisition of significant territories from Mexico and establishment of typical American pattern of occupation: creation of local civil government and minimization of any involvement in their activities. This mainly describes how it happened and struggle between various American commanders who promoted different tempo and methods of conversion of these territories and their population into regular part of America. This process of creating territories that later were converted into the states was relatively smooth and successful. Slightly different it was in parts of Mexico that were only temporarily occupied, but it included the same pattern: establishment of local government with support of American military, but minimal interference in local politics or economics.

The Civil War and Reconstruction

Completely different situation developed in occupation of South were North’s objective was complete change of Southern way of live by eliminating slavery as economic foundation of Southern society. This part describes low intensity insurrection war that continued long after massive military engagement had ended. The Northern attempt to restructure society via Reconstruction with new local governments based on support from black population and relative significant transfer of people from the North mainly failed after Northern population got tired and continuation of massive suppression effort become politically untenable. Eventually the new form of society with segregation at its base was established, emancipation of black population mainly rolled back, and long economic and political stagnation settled in on South.

The Spanish-American War

This war demonstrated growing schizoid character of American international politics in colonial era when American politics become much more federal rather than local pushing imperial expansion, but strong anti-colonial forces inside USA preventing annexation of Cuba or Philippines. While pro-colonial forces succeeded in creating US territories in Caribbean, it failed to push America into full pledged pursuit of colonial empire. Author reviews this process in Cuba and Philippines, especially low intensity colonial war that lasted for years in Philippines.

World War I

The American occupation of some parts of Germany after WWII was brief and relatively easy since German government mainly remained unchanged, there were no attempt to radically change society, and consequently army just provided support to local government, assuring compliance with Versailles treaty. Some civilian structures were created within military to interact with locals and control military support for security and logistics in the occupied areas.


In reviewing these cases author identified two different forms of general engagements: political oversight and political reconstruction. The lesson derived is complexity and inevitability of civilian – military tension due to different training, attitude, and experience between military officers and civilian officials tasked with supporting occupation. Another lesson is necessity and difficulty of maintaining the unity of command due to the fact that military forces structured and optimized for independent military operations and consequently have difficulty to adjust to political, police, logistical, and other governmental roles in close interaction with local population.


  1. World War II: Building an Organization

Civil-Military Tensions

This part provides history of bureaucratic processes in relation to military governance. It reviews various documents developed based on experience of WWI and preparations during WWII. These preparations were quite extensive including special training program for civil affairs in the War Department. It also reviews tensions caused by the very idea of use of military for civilian governance from legal and civilian side. Army also was not very interested in obtaining these new responsibilities because it was destruction from its main professional duties to fight and win wars.


The American military involvement in Italy governance was quite complex due to multiple factors such as Italy’s switch from being German ally to fighting Germany and occupation. Politically the main purpose was to remove remaining fascists from the position of power, at the same time preventing communists from taking over. The significant economic aid and logistical support allowed Italy to avoid catastrophic consequences in provision of food and other supplies. The transfer to republican political organization directed political activities into peaceful direction by allowing communists to maintain hope of achieving victory via democratic election. At the same time presence of American troops made any attempt to take power by force way too risky.


This is review of history of Germany occupation, which extensively prepared for over the years leading to victory. Initial plan was to allocate specific military detachments to administrative units and localities of Germany, but it was not possible due to the lack of resources, so regular tactical units of army were used for this purpose. After hostilities ended the governance was converted to territorial model with main objective to transfer it to civilian governance as soon as possible. An extensive program of denazification was implemented and formation of multiple political parties was highly encouraged. There were no significant resistance to the return to democratic order and within 4 years American military control over country governance was practically removed.


Japan surrender left all government structure from Emperor down basically intact. Military units of occupation army were organized to match Japanese prefectures Politically country was restructured to democratic norms, changing political, but living intact administrative organization of society. Overall there were no significant resistance, country readily accepted modification of constitution and by the end of 1945 there were 60 political parties.


A bit more complicated was situation in Korea mainly because it was for a long time occupied by Japan and departure of Japanese bureaucrats left void in governance. Eventually administrative positions were successfully filled by occupying military and returning Korean emigrants, leading to restoration of necessary function of the state. Probably the most difficult was political struggle to keep Korea united and prevent communist from taking power by force. This obviously failed and Korea was divided into two countries.

  1. The Cold War: Illusive Lessons: The Korean War; The Dominican Republic;


These were mainly successful operations not that different to ones that followed WWII. There were no significant insurgencies and limited political objectives of stabilization and transfer of power to locals were relatively easily achieved. Author provides rather detailed description of bureaucratic structures and processes that allowed such results.

  1. Afghanistan and Iraq

Lessons Ignored

Author identifies lack of planning for settlement after military victory as the ignored lesson from the history of previous occupation.


Author sees the problem in lack of integrated efforts between multiple occupying NATO forces and lack of central authority to define and enforce common strategic approach. She recounts history of attempts to reconstruct the state that generally failed due to poor understanding of tribal and sectarian nature of Afghan society.


Similar problems occurred in Iraq, which is also society deeply divided by sectarian lines and history of internal violence. One of the most important mistakes was destruction of existing Iraqi institutions such as Army without ability to substitute these Sunni dominated structures with the new non-sectarian ones.


Finally the most important difference is strong and continuing insurgence in both Iraq and Afghanistan that author explains by ineptitude of American leadership at the time, poor planning and failure to implement timely transfer from military fight to reconstruction and suppression of insurgency.


I take from this book that generally American occupation was successful when military were given more freedom to act and objective was less to build new society, than pacify existing one and let locals decide what they want to rebuild as long as main objective – removing future threats to America is achieved. I do not think that the latest failures or semi-failures in Afghanistan and Iraq has anything to do with planning, sufficient or not, centralization, or other activities or lack thereof on the part of Americans or NATO countries. The main problem is clash of religious and cultural character inside of these countries that could not be easily overcome. Historically military conquest of Islamic countries was successful in one of two ways. One way was when it did not involve any significant interference into regular lives of locals, leaving their mores untouched, while assuring quick, immediate, but carefully calibrated military reaction to any threat, as it was in case of British in India / Pakistan. The other way was when it involved dramatic change of culture and mores with any resistance suppressed with extreme cruelty against not only activists, but also regular population, as it was the case in 1930s Central Asia when communists took over. I do not think that either one of these method is applicable now, so the best way would be to leave them alone, while assuring their inability to develop any military or terrorist threat by immediate massive, but brief intervention eliminating any entities that start developing ideological and/or technical capability for such thread. It means in/out operation with elimination of threat, but no occupation. Independently there should be a continuing effort to conduct massive ideological campaign against militant understanding of Islam and material support to whatever forces inside of these societies would want to move to contemporary world.


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