“Nation building” has been a disaster. Part 1 of a two-part series.
Announcing that Gen. David Petraeus would replace the defenestrated Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the war in Afghanistan, President Obama was emphatic in saying that this was a change in people, not in policy.
That policy, which Obama described in a February 2009 interview with Jim Lehrer, was “that is that we make sure that [Afghanistan is] not a safe haven for al-Qaida, they are not able to launch attacks of the sort that happened on 9/11 against the American homeland or American interest.” And that was George Bush’s goal. The strategy Bush chose to accomplish it — and the one Obama is continuing — is nation-building, also known as “counterinsurgency” in military lingo.
By the end of August, over 100,000 U.S. troops will be engaged in the counterinsurgency campaign and in less than a year the final curtain will begin to fall on the greatest wartime mistake America has made since Lyndon Johnson put Robert McNamara in charge of the Vietnam War: the strategy of nation-building.
Though he campaigned against it, President Bush embraced nation-building in January 2003 when he chose a nation-building plan for post-war Iraq authored by Colin Powell and George Tenet over the plan for a brief invasion written by Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Myers. And, by default, nation-building was decided upon for Afghanistan as well.
We are now close to the end of the ninth year of our counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan and success — as defined by Bush and Obama — is nowhere in sight.
In two years, nation-building will have failed conclusively in Afghanistan. The impermanence of its accomplishments in Iraq are already all too evident. The post-election stalemate between the incumbent Maliki and apparent winner Allawi has continued since March, accompanied by ever-increasing violence by a resurgent al-Qaeda.
In two years, Republicans will have to decide on a candidate to oppose Obama’s attempt to win a second term.
This will necessitate an argument between conservatives and neocons, the latter’s belief in nation-building being one of their defining characteristics. The outcome of that argument will determine the immediate future of conservatism and, in all likelihood, the outcome of the 2012 election.
Neocons — according to an August 2003 Weekly Standard article by the late Irving Kristol, credited as the godfather of neoconservatism — define themselves differently from traditional conservatives.
Kristol described a cognitive dissonance that characterizes neocons. First, he said, neoconservatives like to stimulate economic growth by cutting taxes. But their emphasis on economic growth leads them to embrace governmental spending far more than small-government conservatives do. He rejected Hayek’s thesis that we are on a “road to serfdom” and said that “…sometimes we must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth.” This was George Bush’s “big government conservatism” and it failed comprehensively.
The neocons’ belief in nation-building — they being the most ardent advocates of it — wasn’t mentioned by Kristol though he admitted that foreign policy was (when he wrote) the media’s focus on neoconservatism. He claimed that “there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience.”
Nation-building is the most prominent — and most important — part of the neocon doctrine. And the decision to pursue it is the principal reason that we are losing in Afghanistan, Iraq is falling apart, and the real enemy — the terror-sponsoring nations — have grown stronger. If conservatives are going to recover from the Bush years and regain the White House, nation-building must be a focal point of the argument for the future of conservatism.
WE ARE CLOSING IN on the ninth anniversary of 9-11. U.S. combat forces are supposed to be out of Iraq altogether by summer’s end, though more are being sent to Afghanistan to complete the “surge” the president ordered.
But nowhere — in Iraq, Afghanistan or the score of other places where the war George Bush called the “global war on terror” is being fought — are we winning.
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