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:
… a brief look at the Balkans suggests that the wariness some expressed at the time was well-founded. In the nearly 15 years since the Dayton Accord was signed, Bosnia has been the site of the largest state-building project on earth. On a per capita basis, the multinational project there has dwarfed even the post — World War II efforts in Germany and Japan. Tiny Kosovo received higher per capita expenditure. Yet, as political scientists Patrice McMahon and Jon Western warned in Foreign Affairs last year, Bosnia “now stands on the brink of collapse” — partly as a consequence of persistent ethnic cleavages and the inherent difficulty of state building. McMahon and Western — who support additional efforts in Bosnia to prevent a collapse — warn that Bosnia has gone from being “the poster child for international reconstruction efforts” to being a cautionary tale about the limits of even very well-funded and focused efforts at state building.
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.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

I don’t think that effective “nation building” is possible until the native population can produce a Thomas Jefferson. “Modern Democracies” are a distillation down from the Magna Carta, some would say before. I don’t know how we can instill this in a single generation.
I did note that the protestors at Tianamen(sp) Square were quoting Thomas Jefferson.
The blood of patriots offers evidence that “Modern Democracy” springs from a stern, but heartfelt, desire. I am not sure it can be exported. Perhaps we can only esport the idea and must allow local custom and usage to determine the end result. Consider how long female suffrage took us. Can we expect to export it full blown, like Venus from a Cypriot sea?

David P
David P
11 years ago

Whether you call it nation building or counterinsurgency, we don’t like it because it’s not what our military does best. Over the past thirty years, the U.S. armed forces became the best in the world at defeating other conventional forces anywhere on the planet. The military that was designed to meet a Soviet invasion on the North German plain proved ideally suited to dominating and demolishing Iraq’s army in a classic war of maneuver in 1991. The problem is that when you become that dominant at a particular form of warfare, you can count on your enemies’ choosing other strategies and tactics to which your forces are less suited. When that happens we can choose to avoid conflict until our enemies oblige us by playing to our strengths, or we can adapt and develop strategies designed to defeat the enemy. Whether our military should be engaged in nation-building is almost beside the point. The fact is that Afghanistan, under the Taliban, gave Al Qaeda a secure base from which to plan and organize the September 11 attacks. The question is, is it acceptable to allow that former state of affairs to reoccur? Are we confident that we can prevent further attacks from Al Qaeda once they have the open backing of a nation state again? If we are resolved not to allow the Taliban to regain power, we need to develop and implement a strategy to prevent it, which will necessarily involve a military component until such time as Afghanistan’s security forces are capable of defending their country on their own. Over the weekend I watched the candidates for the democratic nomination for the House of Representatives first district state that they were all in favor of withdrawing forces from Afghanistan beginning next year. Not one of them seemed to… Read more »

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

How about we concentrate on our own nation and let the rest of the world deal with their own business as they see fit?
Radical idea minding your own business but we could save around half a trillion a year in war, “defense” and related costs.
We’re at 96% debt-GDP ratio and that’s just about Greek levels boys and girls.
If we don’t tackle BOTH entitlements and the insane globalist war machine Obama is going to be our Romulus Augustulus because we will be DEAD economically by 2017.

David P
David P
11 years ago

Tommy,
I’m assuming from your comment that you are prepared to return Afghanistan to Taliban control. Do you think this is compatible with our national security?
I’m not trying to be snide here. Afghanistan has cost a lot in terms of blood and treasure. But the alternative seems to be the pre-9/11 strategy of intermittent missile strikes that seemed to have little effect. If we leave Afghanistan, is there an effective anti-Al Qaeda strategy that can replace our current one?

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

“we could save around half a trillion a year in war, “defense” and related costs.”
How about we save about $20 billion a year and de-fund NASA. If they’re doing anything worthwhile, then let the private sector take it over.
If we really want to save money, and this might be heresy with some conservatives, simply decriminalize marijuana and start selling it at all the same places that tobacco products are sold. That move alone would save quite a bit in prison costs.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

When considering Afghanistan, it is well to recall Sherlock Holmes introduction to Dr. Watson. Observing that Watson walked with a limp, assuming a wound from a jazail bullet, Holmes’ first words to Watson were “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive”.
It has been going on a long time.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

“Tommy,
I’m assuming from your comment that you are prepared to return Afghanistan to Taliban control.”
Yup.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
11 years ago

“How about we save about $20 billion a year and de-fund NASA. If they’re doing anything worthwhile, then let the private sector take it over.
If we really want to save money, and this might be heresy with some conservatives, simply decriminalize marijuana and start selling it at all the same places that tobacco products are sold.”
All sounds good to me. They can sell heroin at Walmart for all I care-I’m not going to stick a needle in my arm even if they give it away for free.
The War On Drugs sure keeps a whole lot of people on government payrolls that don’t need to be there.

Mathilda Forst
Mathilda Forst
9 years ago

Wow ! tremendous job! i would like to read your post a great deal.Its make me to hold more information. Thank You !

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