In the Interest of a Coherent View of Nation Building
As part of my continuing effort to work through right-leaning arguments for and against the sorts of foreign (especially military) efforts under the umbrella of “nation building,” I can’t but point out something that strikes me as a contradiction in reasoning in an essay by Justin Logan and Christopher Preble (emphasis added):
What was needed in Afghanistan was not counterinsurgency and nation building, but a violent response to the terrorist attacks. However, as the U.S. routed the Taliban in Afghanistan and trained its sights on Iraq, it became clear that the problem Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had identified in Afghanistan — that there were no good targets — was true for the overall War on Terror. In December 2001, immediately after the successful overthrow of the Taliban (a feat accomplished with no more than a few hundred U.S. personnel on the ground), Charles Krauthammer published an article titled “We Don’t Peacekeep,” in which he argued that while U.S. military forces “fight the wars[,] our friends should patrol the peace.” The Bush White House apparently disagreed, defining U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq expansively to include the establishment of viable, modern democracies, growing economies, and equitable judicial systems.
In context, the authors clearly agree with Krauthammer, even though, previously, while arguing against the very notion of nation building, they’d observed:
Similarly, in surveying conditions in Bosnia and Kosovo, Gordon Bardos of Columbia University recently concluded that “it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that we have the intellectual, political, or financial wherewithal to transform the political cultures of other countries” at an acceptable cost. If Bosnia and Kosovo — European countries less rugged than Afghanistan, and with, respectively, one-sixth and one-twelfth of its population — represent the case for optimism in Afghanistan, then the case for gloom is strong.
I’m tempted to quip that the United States shouldn’t take Europeans’ inability to nation build shouldn’t stand as evidence that our own country could not do so, but the logical problem is more substantial. In the quotation above, Krauthammer implicitly acknowledges that a peace-keeping/nation-building component follows naturally on a military victory. That is so for precisely the same reason that the “surge” strategy of capturing and holding territories was necessary: a slippery, insurgent-style opponent will simply reinsinuate itself where ever the conquering army does not look.
In that context, the evidence that Europeans can no longer be trusted to hold up that end of the process does not negate the necessity of finding some way to follow violence with reconstruction.