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The Mirage of “Nation-Building”

Paul Miller takes an unpersuasive swipe at Rand Paul:

What if “nation building” is the best or only means available to “extend the blessings of freedom” to a country like Afghanistan? Which is more important, “spreading the blessings of freedom,” or avoiding nation building at all costs?

The correct answer is that the latter is obviously more important for the United States. The former might be desirable in some cases if it were possible, but the U.S. has just spent more than a decade confirming that our government doesn’t know how to do this. U.S. “nation-building” has such a sorry record for the simple reason that no outside government could succeed in an effort to design and impose a new system of government on another people whose culture and society we don’t understand very well. If U.S. security depended on “nation-building,” we would be in some serious trouble. Fortunately, it doesn’t. It is a wasteful, optional exercise on the part of our government that shouldn’t be repeated in the future. Nowhere that the U.S. attempted “nation-building” in the last fifty years have we seen an extension of the “blessings of freedom” to anyone. These efforts have been good at empowering local dictators, but other than that they have been truly useless. If there were the slightest evidence that the U.S. knew how to “nation-build” successfully, Miller’s objection might have some merit, but everything points to the futility of outside “nation-building” efforts by the U.S. in countries that it poorly understands. If the choice is between Miller’s endorsement of “nation-building” and Paul’s rejection of it, there’s no question that most Republicans and most Americans will prefer the latter every time.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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