The U.S. and Nation Building

Discussion in 'Afghanistan' started by cm7540a, Apr 13, 2009.

  1. cm7540a

    cm7540a Rookie

    Apr 13, 2009
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    When Texas Governor George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency in 2000 he vowed to remove the United States from the role of nation-building that had blossomed under President Bill Clinton. During the first few months of his term, President Bush stayed true to these principles by focusing on domestic priorities and the economy. It was not until after 9/11 that the Bush Administration, as a result of the terrorist attacks and growing neoconservative influence in the White House, switched gears and supported nation-building on a scale not seen since the Second World War. In the years that followed the U.S. became massively involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as smaller forays into the Balkans, Liberia, and Haiti.
    I examine the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as likely future American policy towards nation-building, with the assistance of the executive summary of the report America’s Role in Nation-Building by James Dobbins, et al. With the U.S. reorienting towards Afghanistan and gradually pulling back from Iraq it is instructive to examine the general tenants of American policy towards nation-building as it is likely to evolve during President Obama’s administration and how it has been shaped since the end of the Cold War.
    Dobbins notes that many in-country factors determine how difficult or easy a nation-building mission will be. For example, Iraq had a relatively highly developed infrastructure, including a large surface transportation network and advanced power-generating capabilities. Afghanistan, on the other hand, had few infrastructure components and almost no transportation grid to speak of. Although the U.S. was not able to control these preexisting factors, Dobbins says it was able to quantify the level of involvement it was willing to apply. In Iraq, large numbers of troops and contractors were involved, while in Afghanistan a much smaller contingent was employed. As a result, and as predicted by the report, Iraq has gradually improved while Afghanistan has slid downward into an increasingly more difficult to manage situation.
    America also chose to go into Iraq without a large-scale multinational effort, as urged by the report. As a result, the country has borne significant costs compared to Afghanistan where the effort is more diversified under the NATO umbrella with UN participation. The lack of multinational effort in Iraq has borne significant diplomatic consequences for the United States, as it has struggled to get other countries to become involved (and stay) in the country. In contrast, American troops participated under a NATO-commanded force in Afghanistan, allowing greater coordination with other countries for a greater effectiveness in resource allocation. Although America chafes at putting its military under foreign command, it may well rediscover the powers of alliances – at least for a time – as a result of the failure of the ‘go it alone’ mentality. Dobbins’s unity of command examination shows that a hybrid model, where U.S. troops operate both under and outside of a larger multinational authority – as in Afghanistan – may be a viable alternative to satisfy American interests while achieving mission cohesion if the other nations share the same priorities and goals.
    One of the primary arguments for a small, mobile force in Afghanistan was the ‘lessons’ of the 1980s Soviet invasion. The Soviets were believed to have suffered high casualties because of the large number of soldiers on the ground made easy targets for small numbers of mujahedeen. In contrast, Dobbins argues that there is actually an inverse correlation between large numbers of soldiers and casualty rates. If adequate troops are provided to maintain control (as represented in the report by proportions of the population), then the casualties will likely be much lower than those suffered with token forces. This logic seems to have held true in Iraq, where casualty rates soared before the 2007 ‘surge’ and gradual recommitment of American troops following the steep 2003 drawdown following the end of the war. Afghanistan and Iraq also contained significant proportions of the population where the populace continued to be hostile to U.S. occupation, in contrast to the oft-cited cases of Germany and Japan where the effects of total war were clearly felt by the domestic populace and there was little chance of a successful rebellion in the eyes of the populace. Future operations will likely be conducted with overwhelming strength, drawing on the lessons of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Finally, Dobbins emphasizes the importance of long-term commitment to the nation-building effort. Noting that quick, on-the-fly nation-building efforts like that initially attempted in Iraq (with an absurd 90 day turnaround timeframe) will not work. A country, such as the U.S. must be willing to commit “at least 5 years” to the effort of nation-building, and involve neighboring countries – something else the U.S. has failed to do effectively in Iraq. Iran and Syria were completely cut out of the coordination of post-war Iraq in the Bush Administration. Under Obama, however, both are being cautiously exposed to American diplomatic efforts. The importance of engaging neighboring countries should be a key component to future nation-building efforts.
    It seems likely that several American views toward nation-building will continue, including the avoidance of UN command for U.S. soldiers (which is enshrined as law) and a general aversion to long-term commitments to large scale-nation building by the public. But working with established alliances such as NATO, establishing common priorities with other countries (both abroad and neighboring), and a return to the doctrine of overwhelming force and the Powell Doctrine seem likely given Dobbin’s analysis. However, those hoping for a pull-back from the world stage and involvement in other nations’ affairs under President Obama should not hold their figurative breath. Dobbins notes that that since the end of the Cold War the U.S. has only become more and more involved in nation-building across the globe, regardless of the political affiliation of those in power. Dobbins convincingly argues that the role of superpower seems to have also added the thankless task of nation-building to its list of duties and responsibilities.

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