A younger, humbler George W. Bush once said, “I don’t think our troops should be used for what’s called nation building.”
How times change. A strategy document released recently by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, with the tacit approval of the president, might as well have been titled “Three cheers for nation building.” The authors avoided using the precise phrase but its carefully worded substitutes are hard to miss.
“Our commitment to democratic values must be matched by our deeds,” the document exhorts. Extremist groups thrive in “ungoverned, under-governed and mis-governed areas,” it warns. Thus America must “help foster security and aid local authorities in building effective systems of representational government.”
(Goooooo nation building!)
According to James Dobbins, author of the RAND Corporation’s nation building studies, U.S. intervention had increased from roughly one country every ten years during the Cold War to one every two years during the Clinton administration. Bush invaded three countries in his first three years in office. That’s a pretty steep trend line.
This desire to forcibly “fix” failed states is hardly unique to the U.S. Nation building statistics are on the rise. Europe and the United Nations have led nation building efforts. Crikey, even Australia has had a go at it.
The strategy document includes such pseudo pragmatic language as “military success alone is insufficient to achieve victory,” when referring to Iraq and Afghanistan. “We must not forget our hard-learned lessons.” But what are those lessons?
According to a 2003 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of 16 attempted US nation-building missions over the past century only four have been successful.
Political scientist James L. Payne maintains that American and British-led nation building initiatives have been successful in building democracy 14 times out of 51 attempts.
NO MATTER WHOSE data set one examines, the odds are not in our favor. They get worse upon closer examination
Payne explains that in cases where nation-building was successful it has been due not to the superior planning of foreign powers but to a society’s pre-existing propensity toward non-violence. Violent societies tend to return to violence while those countries that already have a politically non-violent culture can thrive on democracy.
It’s difficult for any foreign nation to come in and “build” anything if there isn’t a solid foundation in the first place. The things that DoD recommends — more “economic development, institution building, and the rule of law” — are all to the good but they won’t take root in hostile soil.
America used to understand this and in fact proved resistant to most calls for nation building. Humanitarian activists use the U.S.’s refusal to pacify and build up Rwanda, Somalia, Darfur, and other nations to allege racism. America is said to be just fine with little black babies dying, but moved to action by the suffering of little European tots.
But America is not callously racist, simply prudent and self-interested. Our state apparatus was constructed to care about national security — American babies and none other. The new American policy in favor of nation building was not a flowering of humanitarianism but, rather, grew out of serious national security concerns.
So many U.S. troops are in the Middle East because we deem failed states in that region a national security threat. Al-Qaeda, to a certain extent, has justified those fears.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?