distinctly remember President Bush, when the war or the bombing
campaign, depending on how much of a stickler you are for constitutionally-declared
wars and other anachronisms was just beginning, promising
quite specifically that the United States wasn't going to get involved
in "nation-building" in Afghanistan. No, no, we had learned
our lessons from the Clinton era and he had stressed it in the campaign.
War on evil, yes. Nation-building, no.
Bushlet might even have been sincere at the time although
I tend to view all presidents with skepticism bordering on cynicism
rather than respect verging on worship, which I would argue is the
proper stance of any people that wants to remain free or become
freer. But it hardly took a prophet to figure that when the time
came we would most definitely be involved in nation-building there.
The international dynamics not to mention the memory of previous
Afghan adventures and the nature of the kinds of people who tend
to populate the State and Defense Departments whatever party is
in power virtually guaranteed it.
is emerging as the Bush style also made a sizable commitment in
Afghanistan likely. Any number of observers have argued that Bush
43 is tougher and more focused, closer to conservative and less
a captive of the establishment schmoozing set than his old man.
In some ways this is true he certainly moved more decisively
and surely upon assuming office than either friend or foe anticipated.
But if the war has brought out the "real GW," as some
have contended, and given him a focus, it has also showed a risk-averse
consensus-obsessed side of him that resembles old 41 rather closely.
even though Dubya, with his post-9/11 popularity ratings, has had
almost unparalleled political capital, he has been loathe to use
it in ways that might disturb the illusion of consensus. He chose
not to campaign for Republican candidates in New Jersey and Virginia
during the recent elections, citing the focus on the war and reluctance
to appear to be horrors! a partisan. He did almost
nothing for the recent "economic stimulus" package the
Republicans pushed in December which might be just as well
considering what a mess it was after going through the congressional
appears that while Mr. Bush might have a few convictions on political
matters, they are few and far between at least those that
might be worth fighting for. Even before the terrorist attack he
was always going on about bipartisan this and bipartisan that, about
making changes in Washington's normal way of doing business. He
has shown a certain relish for certain fights, but an absolute distaste
for most forms of confrontation. He prefers to believe that the
Democrats can be reasoned with or at least he pretends to
is not inconsistent with a certain kind of toughness. He was shrewd
enough to use the honeymoon even a disputed president gets to get
a tax cut done and to announce he didn't plan to take the global
warming and ballistic missile treaties very seriously. He has managed
to create a virtually-leak-free White House, which is probably not
possible through sweet-talking alone. He apparently demands utter
loyalty from aides and is not reluctant to punish those who stray
from the true path. And he has both talked and acted tough in the
war on terrorism.
a number of larger political issues, however (I'm not quite sure
yet whether this category embraces all issues that stretch beyond
the relatively narrow margins of organization, family, friends and
current White House agenda, to include anything about which actual
political thinking rather than organizational loyalty is required),
he is remarkably confrontation-averse.
this is the Bush pattern in domestic politics, it is hardly unexpected
that a similar pattern would prevail in international affairs. While
declaring publicly a willingness to go it alone like a "dead
or alive" Western gunslinger, the president has in practice
set great store in building coalitions to support his efforts. Getting
support from the Tony Blairs of the world, however, means that you
must listen to proponents of nation-building and international action
on a grand scale.
you don't want to alienate your putative allies, who turn out to
be the denizens of that floating crap game of mutual back-scratching
most analysts choose to call the "international community"
you're not likely to draw a line in the sand over something so trivial
as a campaign promise or a matter of principle. So it was likely
that, once it mattered -- whatever he might have meant back in October
-- Mr. Bush would fall in with the nation-builders, who predominate
in most of the circles he deems important.
too bad more people haven't read Fool's
Errands: America's Recent Encounters with Nation Building,
a Cato Institute book by Gary T. Dempsey with Roger W. Fontaine.
It details the grand illusions and expensive failures American and
other nation-builders have indulged in (sending the bills to American
taxpayers) over the past decade, including Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia
Americans have a general notion that these exercises weren't exactly
great successes, or in some cases an impression that they have unfortunately
taken longer to produce positive results than some had expected.
Dempsey and Fontaine, however, offer in excruciating detail just
how miserably all these missions failed, despite or perhaps
because of the best exertions of the "best and the brightest."
administration actually seemed to think that installing Aristide
by force in Haiti would transform a country with no tradition of
democracy into a democratic utopia. They got involved in Somalian
domestic disputes and squabbles from a position of almost complete
ignorance, with the arrogance of the ignorant that military force
and good intentions would ineluctably bring these primitives to
insisted on creating an unstable "multiethnic" Bosnia
and dabbled aggressively in politics when the model proved as unstable
as anyone with half a brain could have told them it would be (and
some did). They openly sided with favorites in both Bosnia and Kosovo,
which probably hurt them more than it helped them and created
widespread resentment on all sides against U.S. and Western meddling.
Clinton-era fiascoes, the authors conclude, "were expressions
of the administration's faith in the power of government, especially
the US government, to engineer solutions to political and social
problems." Failure didn't teach these social engineers a thing.
At the end of the administration, with failure after international
failure staring us in the face, Clinton was saying things like "We've
got to realize that there are other places in the world that we
haven't fooled with enough." The White House then presented
"new development agenda for the 21st century"
with an "accelerated campaign against global poverty"
and the elimination of the "digital divide."
the end the Democrats were touting "democratic enlargement"
and a unique American (i.e. bureaucratic) response to globalism.
They were quite open and explicit about the fact that their program
meant an end to outdated concepts like national sovereignty and
that it would cost a great deal in military force and foreign aid.
has many of the problems that have caused nation-building efforts
in other areas to fail. Its borders, like the borders of Bosnia,
were established (albeit 100 years ago) by the British for purposes
of imperial convenience rather than because of local political and
ethnic forces. It has had periods of stability despite the potential
for ethnic conflict largely because it has had a weak central government
that has not been viewed as a threat by minorities to monopolize
power and wield effective oppression.
of Afghanistan's problems have been caused by meddling from the
outside by the British and Russians in the 19th
century, by the Soviets in the 1970s, and by Pakistan and the Western
alliance that supported the anti-Soviet forces in the 1980s. It
seems more than a little counterintuitive to hope that renewed and
intensified attention from outsiders will be the key to stability
in the future.
our best hope is that the Bush administration, like most politicians,
really doesn't mean it when people like Colin Powell say we're going
to be with Afghanistan for the long haul, that we'll be there to
funnel money, hold hands and give orders without much knowledge
or concern about local conditions which is unlikely to deter the
arrogance of professional nation-builders. (Indeed, more often than
not ignorance is what breeds that kind of arrogance.)
the United States has a core national interest in Afghanistan it
is that it not be a breeder of terrorism, a place where terrorists
can find a safe harbor and a secure base of operations.
the Bushies understand that and really don't mean all the flowery
promises about democracy, prosperity and strong centralized bureaucracies
(which would intensify ethnic insecurities and rivalries), perhaps
they will be able to concentrate on that narrow goal and keep the
more ambitious international tinkerers in check. They wouldn't be
likely to say that in public, of course. In public they might go
along with the grandiose rhetoric and promises while keeping the
have my doubts whether the Bushies really do understand that. If
they do, I have my doubts about their knowledge, shrewdness and
capacity to keep any mission in Afghanistan narrow and focused especially
since they won't be able to be honest in public about what their
real mission is. So I suspect we're going to see yet another grandiose,
expensive, ineffective exercise in failed nation-building that might
just make Afghans and others in the region so much worse off that
it will breed resentment and hostility in the future.
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