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The Mirage of “Nation-Building”

Paul Miller takes [1] 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.

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16 Comments To "The Mirage of “Nation-Building”"

#1 Comment By Richard W. Bray On October 30, 2014 @ 12:45 am

American military intervention has turned Iraq and Libya into steaming hot piles of Freedom.

I fail to see the Blessing in that.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 30, 2014 @ 3:32 am

When the debate was faux raging about Iraq and Afghanistan, I made reference to one example. Haiti is just next door and we have never built a successful stable democracy there.

I think the US can nation build. But it requires a nation willing to be built on. And if unwilling it requires such force as no admin has dared to exercise to bend the will to be transformed. Because the issues of arresting Osama were paramount, any other objective as an add on such freeing Islamic women from the lives they have known for more than a thousand years seemed unwise.

Now the same band of soothsayers that laid claim to weapons mass destruction are meddling again with non threats and exacerbating actors will most assuredly be so in the future by our own making.

We have engaged in very successful enemy making.

#3 Comment By SDS On October 30, 2014 @ 8:43 am

Actually; I think “Don’t meddle” is the start of a good foreign policy!
I’m surprised that simplistic drivel was in FP…..

#4 Comment By tbraton On October 30, 2014 @ 9:23 am

I finally got around to reading the Consumer Reports review of “government in a box” that was being touted in Afghanistan a few years back, and the review was not especially favorable. So the once promising technology that one hoped would make “nation building” effective does not seem to be there. Bad news for all the poorly run cities and towns in the U.S. who were counting on the civilian version of the product. The good news is that all the scientists who were working on “government in a box” are back on their old jobs of making “cold fusion” a reality. That still has promise of solving our “climate change” problem.

#5 Comment By tbraton On October 30, 2014 @ 9:37 am

“When the debate was faux raging about Iraq and Afghanistan, I made reference to one example. Haiti is just next door and we have never built a successful stable democracy there.”

EliteCommInc., you failed to mention that the U.S. Marines occupied Haiti for 19 years from 1915 to 1934, which underscores your point. [2] A little longer than we have been in Afghanistan, but the ultimate result will be the same there.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 30, 2014 @ 10:03 am

“The good news is that all the scientists who were working on “government in a box” are back on their old jobs of making “cold fusion” a reality.”

Laughing.

Tell me your not saying my cold fusion is a pipe dream.

#7 Comment By Robert Pickard On October 30, 2014 @ 11:00 am

More than 60 years ago I, as a GI, passed through Seoul on my way to the front line. To say that the place was devestated is a gross understatement. Corruption was rampant and the Korean government was authoritarian. Quite a few years later I was, to say the least, taken aback , when, during the Seoul Olympics, TV did a brief tour of the city. No way it could be the same place. I was amazed. Today South Korea is an economic powehouse, democratic and a staunch ally. I don’t know the details of how the transformation took place after the close of the but I think if fair to say that in the right circumstances “Nation Building” can produce spectular results.

#8 Comment By tbraton On October 30, 2014 @ 11:55 am

“Tell me your not saying my cold fusion is a pipe dream.”

EliteCommInc., I have not made any judgments about YOUR cold fusion since you have kept it a tightly held secret and have not submitted it for peer review. However, this is what Wikipedia has to say about the cold fusion ideas of others (specifically Fleischmann-Pons):

“Cold fusion is a hypothetical type of nuclear reaction that would occur at, or near, room temperature, compared with temperatures in the millions of degrees that are required for “hot” fusion, which takes place naturally within stars. There is currently no accepted theoretical model which would allow cold fusion to occur.”

Wikipedia, obviously, hasn’t learned about your model. Keep in mind how Charles Darwin’s delay in publication almost caused us to refer today to “Wallace’s Theory of Evolution.”

#9 Comment By Myron Hudson On October 30, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

Frankly I don’t see where it is written that we are supposed to extend the blessings of freedom to other peoples and countries. Except as a destination for some and as an inspiration for others. Spreading democracy at gunpoint, a Wilsonian delusion, should be seen as a non-starter.

In the meantime capitalism exports itself. We should just let it do that, while preserving our own freedom by limiting the power of elites and oligarchs. That seems to be a big enough fight as it is.

#10 Comment By Inchon On October 30, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

@Robert Pickard: “I don’t know the details of how the transformation took place after the close of the but I think if fair to say that in the right circumstances “Nation Building” can produce spectular results.”

I suspect that “the right circumstances” prominently included large numbers of Koreans, Germans, or Japanese … It’s really the character, capacities and desire of the local people that determines whether nation-building will succeed. In the case of Korea or the Marshall Plan we made vital contributions, but the lion’s share of credit goes to the Korean, German and Japanese people.

#11 Comment By AKA Pulco On October 30, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

If we’re going to do any “nation-building” at all we ought to start with Mexico.

How can all these elite New York and Washington busybodies ignore the slow-motion collapse of a nation of 122 million souls on our southern border, instead urging us to keep picking at scabs and open wounds in the Middle East?

#12 Comment By William Dalton On October 31, 2014 @ 1:28 am

I’m certain the Afghans would love the “blessings of freedom” in their homeland. They’ve been fighting 13 years to expel the military forces of the United States so that they might have them.

#13 Comment By AnotherBeliever On October 31, 2014 @ 8:56 am

Well, I don’t know whether to take a defense contractor more or less seriously, but the boffins at Skunk Works apparently have a thing, press release was at mid month. (The wilder eyed conspiracies have it that this is the real reason oil prices are dropping. That, I don’t buy, there’s plenty of other more likely factors, weighing in combination):

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.”

At any rate, as AKA Pulca says, if nation building is any more feasible than cold fusion, then it should be applied first to Mexico, which is just a couple hours’ drive from where I live. We who actually live near the Border take a pretty sanguine view of it, because places like El Paso and McAllen are not actually crawling with bloodthirsty villains. This is not the apocalyptic scene referenced in the fever dreams of many political ads. It’s no more dangerous than most places.

However, when your next door neighbor loses 43 college kids under circumstances which incriminate the authorities themselves working for Cartels, and when the government then digs up several other unrelated mass graves in their search for them, well, they got problems. And that tends to worry you.

#14 Comment By tbraton On October 31, 2014 @ 11:40 am

AnotherBeliever, check out [3]:

“Scientists have responded with scepticism to the announcement of a breakthrough in nuclear fusion by Lockheed Martin.

The arms manufacturer announced on Wednesday that it was “working on a new compact fusion reactor (CFR) that can be developed and deployed in as little as 10 years”. But Lockheed’s four paragraph press release and accompanying video are heavy on hyperbole and light on detail.”

“But fusion researchers have responded coolly to the Lockheed announcement.

Professor Steven Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, says he is “nonplussed”. According to Cowley, Lockheed had said “all the usual things about how it’s going to save the world and how nice it would be if [the reactor] was small” but failed to produce any details upon which their success can be judged.”

“Cowley says it is unlikely fusion will become part of the world’s power generation before 2050 and Lockheed’s announcement does little to change his mind. “I can’t see any results. I mean what have they achieved? It’s all promise,” says Cowley. “The proof is in the pudding in science. I’m surprised that a company like this would make this kind of announcement without announcing any results.”
“Let’s just say that since they don’t provide any technical details of what their ‘breakthrough’ actually involves, I am very sceptical. It’s amazing how much publicity you can generate with minimal information.”

“It appears that this is because the reactor in question has not been built and tested yet. “Some key parts of the prototype are theoretical and not yet proven,” Nathan Gilliland, CEO of General Fusion who are working on their own fusion reactor, told Wired.”

“Fusion power has long been the sun that never rises. As the Guardian’s Leo Hickman observed in 2011, it is “perpetually 30 years away”.

Paradoxically, breakthroughs are announced with monotonous regularity. The hysteria that accompanies every false dawn is a reflection of the hope invested in fusion. It is seen as the silver bullet for the world’s troubled energy system and climate change – a zero-carbon, non-polluting energy source that uses elements mined from seawater.”

I think more than a little skepticism is in order. I’m still betting on “government-in-a-box.” It would be really cool if “giab” and Lockheed’s portable nuclear reactor were to achieve reality at the same time. Then we would have a brave new world.

#15 Comment By Robert Pickard On October 31, 2014 @ 11:49 am

To Inchon:
You, no doubt, have a point. The character and desire of a people have a profound influence on the outcome of a particular nation building effort. At the same time I suspect that other factors are also very important. For instance, having a plan for what to do upon the end of military operations — something the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld admistration apparently completely neglected. In any event my point is that contrary to the idea espoused by many conservatives that all nation building efforts are futile whatever the circumstances, it is, in the hands of competent people who know what they are doing, posssible to mount succesful nation building efforts.

#16 Comment By Balance & Measure On October 31, 2014 @ 6:29 pm

“contrary to the idea espoused by many conservatives that all nation building efforts are futile whatever the circumstances, it is, in the hands of competent people who know what they are doing, posssible to mount succesful nation building efforts.”

I agree. It’s a shame that competent people are so thin on the ground, at least in the area you’re discussing. I suppose it could be a by-product of corrupt contracting practices and appointees with the wrong skill-sets (e.g. Paul Bremer) in important posts.

Competency used to be an attribute I automatically associated with the word “American”. No longer.