Must We Engage In Nation Building?

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

Paul Miller at Foreign Policy has an interesting take on counterinsurgency as nation-building.

General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told Congress this week “I am concerned that funding for our State Department and USAID partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform.  Inadequate resourcing of our civilian partners could, in fact, jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission.”

Congressional testimony is usually bland and does not often contain any real news.  Petraeus’ remarks mostly wrote themselves:  he started by announcing that the Taliban’s momentum “has been arrested,” but progress is “fragile and reversible.”  You might as well say “Progress Made, Challenges Remain.”  Nothing new here.

But then Petraeus came out with that bombshell about funding for civilians near the end of his testimony.  He could not have been more stark.  We will lose the war in Afghanistan unless we pony up more money for our civilian efforts-which is to say, for nation building.

Nation building, as I’ve argued earlier, is not international charity.  It is not a superfluous and dispensable exercise in appeasing western guilt, an expensive tribute to humanitarianism, or an act of unvarnished selflessness and goodwill.  Nation building is a response to the threat of failed states that threaten regional stability.  It is a pragmatic exercise of hard power to protect vital national interests.  In the context of Afghanistan, nation building is the civilian side of counterinsurgency, the primary objective of which is to “foster the development of effective governance by a legitimate government,” according to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual Petraeus wrote.

Afghanistan’s weakness threatens America’s security.  State failure, chaos, or Taliban rule in Afghanistan will provide a safe haven for al-Qaida, destabilize western Pakistan and endanger its nuclear weapons, become a worldwide headquarters for narcotics traffickers, discredit NATO, invite Iranian and Russian adventurism, and sully self-government and civil liberties in the Muslim world.  We must rebuild Afghanistan to prevent these catastrophic outcomes.

Miller makes a good case for the campaign in Afghanistan, one I have made here many times before.  Furthermore, I have advocated against seeing this or any other campaign as merely out to spread benevolence, good cheer and harmony.  This includes democracy programs.  The U.S. doesn’t have the necessary wealth to take on every possible democracy project on earth.  There must be an inherent self interest for the campaign to be worthy, and in Afghanistan, there is inherent self interest.

I’m with Miller until the last sentence.  Actually, I might take issue with the notion of a legitimate government if it is seen as a central government.  The republic envisioned by John and Abigail Adams cannot be installed in Afghanistan.  It doesn’t have the cultural and religions foundation for such a republic.  But I’ll leave the stylistic issues to Christian Bleuer and Joshua Foust.  They know more about that than me.

Now to the last sentence of Miller’s advocacy for nation building.  The value is in the nuance.  Notice that Miller has said that in order to “prevent” these catastrophic outcomes we must nation-build.  Must we prevent these outcomes, or simply respond to them?

In Fallujah 2007, the Marines had a very high bar for performance of the Iraqi Police, and they left such a strong force to protect Fallujah that I claimed to Tom Ricks that al Qaeda would never return.  The only reasons that I tired of Operation Iraqi Freedom were the ridiculous Status of Forces Agreement and the lies to the Sons of Iraq told by the weasel Nouri al-Maliki.  Or maybe I just tired of Nouri al-Maliki.

Marines with whom I talked after three years in Anbar were all of the same opinion.  The Marines were finished in Anbar.  They (the Anbaris) had been given a start.  If they screwed it up and Anbar became a safe haven again for Islamic globalists, the Marines could do the job again in five years, or ten years, or twenty years.

The difference is profound.  The difference envelopes cost in American lives, cost in American wealth, the quantity and quality of American support for the mission, the training, purpose and organizational framework for the U.S. armed forces, and whether a specific people, religion, culture and locale can support a self-sustaining constitutional republic.  The American experiment cannot be exactly duplicated anywhere on earth.  It’s wasteful of lives and wealth to pretend otherwise.

But that doesn’t mean that we should retreat to within the boundaries of the U.S. and wait for the insurgency to cross our own borders.  It just means that we have to maintain a modest appraisal of the possible outcomes of our international involvement, and if necessary, do it again, and again, and again.

  • http://www.firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    “The U.S. doesn’t have the necessary wealth to take on every possible democracy project on earth.  There must be an inherent self interest for the campaign to be worthy”…

    I think inherent self interest can be realatvely enhanced, highlighted, and kept on the front burner of public attention by the West investing in back up communication networks preventing governments from flipping the off switch to phone and Internet communications.

    Enabling video to escape tyranny in real time on an uninterrupted 24/7/365 basis showing the true face of repression by the recordings of the populace themselves, is most useful for coalition building and taps the heart on “inherent self interest” to gain allies in the cause of human rights and human liberty.

    The west needs a global real time fail-safe communication net better than solar powered shortwave radio.

  • http://dad29.blogspot.com dad29

    At the very highest end of the analysis, it will be impossible to “build nations”–at least ‘democratic/republican’ nations–if Islam is the religion of choice in those places.

  • http://firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    “At the very highest end of the analysis, it will be impossible to “build nations”–at least ‘democratic/republican’ nations–if Islam is the religion of choice in those places.”

    I think the majority in the West would likely agree with your comment.

    Are there any events you see that would alter your thinking? What if the next major Arab-Street-Event is a push for chage?

    —Islamic Reformation,
    —Human Rights,
    —Women Rights,
    —Separation of Church and State,
    —Freedom of Religion,

    Would any of these movements be perceived as beneficial to peaceful coexistence?

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Those doctrines are inimical – in this case, directly contrary – to the doctrines found in the Qu’ran. As least as I read it.

  • http://dad29.blogspot.com dad29

    Warbucks, your question is akin to “would you think differently if rain fell up instead of down”?

    IOW, Smith is correct.

    The problem with Islam is its foundational heresy, denying the Trinity. For our purposes the most significant result of that denial is its logical consequence: the derogation (or abrogation) of ‘interpersonal’ or “I-Thou” relationships–or in the larger sense, “community” is insignificant.

    Aquinas, following Aristotle, says this about law:

    Law pertains to that which is the principle of human acts because it is a rule and measure. Just as reason is the principle of human acts, however, there is something in reason which is principle of all the rest. It is to this that law principally and mostly pertains. The first principle in activity, the sphere of practical reason, is the final end. The final end of human life is happiness or beatitude. Thus law necessarily concerns itself primarily with the order directing us toward beatitude.

    Furthermore, since each part is ordered to the whole as imperfect to perfect, and since each single man is a part of the perfect community, law necessarily concerns itself particularly with communal happiness. Thus Aristotle, in defining legal matters, mentions both happiness and the political community, saying, “We term ‘just’ those legal acts which produce and preserve happiness and its components within the political community.” For the state is a perfect community, as he says in his Politics.

    In any genus, that which is called “most of all” is the principal of everything else in that genus, and everything else fits into the genus insofar as it is ordered to that thing. For example, fire, the hottest thing, is cause of heat in mixed bodies, which are said to be hot insofar as they share in fire. Thus, since law is called “most of all” in relation to the common good, no precept concerning action has the nature of law unless it is ordered to the common good.

    Islam, in contrast, posits that Allah can do whatever Allah wants to do. Where Aquinas and Aristotle state that “law” is necessarily founded on ‘the common good,’ Islam effectively states that “law” is whatever Allah says, today. Taken to its logical end, there are no “human rights” under Islam.

    That’s what Benedict XVI referred to in his famous speech at Regensburg.

  • http://firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    Salman Rushdie, and many prominent Muslims (“The 128″) are working to bring an era of reformation into Islam. Religions are alway changing the problem is change occurs on a pace too slow in comparison to human life spans. I read your statements as an open mind to seeing a reasonable proof first, which is a starting point.

    The scale is on your side of this discussion probably by a factor of 95%. But I have never seen change as fast as what we are experiencing right now and the youth are not as committed to the old ways as the elders in power represent.

  • http://firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    Ah yes. Our Dear Pope and his “misunderstood” speech. I must say, as a mystic that I have become over the past decade, I find I get along with Muslims, Jews, Christians, and even the magical shamans. Religion to me is an experience and no longer just a set of words in a book. There are periods of Golden Era’s that we seem to cycle through where we momentarily all get along and work with each other. That’s enough for me and mine.


You are currently reading "Must We Engage In Nation Building?", entry #6610 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,Nation Building and was published March 22nd, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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