Thursday, July 31, 2014

David M. Edelstein's "Occupational Hazards"

David Edelstein is Associate Professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his first book, Occupational Hazards: Success and Failure in Military Occupation, and reported the following:
Occupational Hazards examines the question of why some military occupations succeed while other fail. For example, why did the post-World War II occupations of Japan and West Germany succeed while the U.S. and its allies encountered more difficulty in the recent occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion? The historical record suggests that occupations fail far more often than they succeed, and those that have succeeded usually have featured some third-party external threat from which the occupying power can protect the occupied population. In the case of Japan and West Germany, the threat was Soviet-inspired communism or the Soviet Union itself.

On page 99, we find ourselves in the chapter of the book that addresses the question of when and how struggling occupying powers should abandon the occupation that they have undertaken. More specifically, this page is in the midst of a discussion of the U.S. occupation of Cuba at the turn of the twentieth century. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States occupied Cuba. Shortly after it began, the occupation encountered resistance from Cubans who had hoped that the American victory over Spain would grant them independence rather than further occupation by another power.

Within a few years of the occupation beginning, the United States was seeking an exit from Cuba, but an exit that would ensure that the interests it maintained in Cuba would be protected. The solution, which I discuss on page 99, was the Platt Amendment, which granted the United States a broad right to intervene again in Cuba if its interests were threatened. As I write, “For Washington, the Platt Amendment represented a way out. That is, the United States needed to protect its interests, most importantly from the prospect of European interference, but it had little interest in a permanent occupation of the island.” For Cubans, however, the Platt Amendment represented an affront. As I quote Salvador Cisneros Betancourt, the former provisional president of Cuba, “If carried out, [the Platt Amendment] would inflict a grievous wrong on the people of Cuba, would rob them of their independence for which they had sacrificed so much blood and treasure, and would be in direct violation of the pledge of the people of the United States.”

This discussion on page 99 captures the logic of the occupation dilemma that has confronted so many occupying powers in history. On the one hand, both occupying powers and the occupied population would like to see the occupation end. On the other hand, the occupying power is reluctant to do so without certain guarantees after it withdraws. At some point, the occupying power must consider prolonging a struggling intervention or withdrawing with the prospect of potentially having to reintervene again in the future.

These are debates and dilemmas that not only reverberate throughout history, but also in the important contemporary cases of Iraq and Afghanistan. Occupational Hazards seeks to explain why success in military occupation is so difficult to achieve, suggesting sobering lessons about the possibilities and limits on the use of military force.
Learn more about Occupational Hazards at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue