Nation building is a waste of American resources.
Max Boot says we do, and do it better:
This isnâ??t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; itâ??s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance â?? especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations â?? can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military...
I can't say I find the national security rationale for nation building all the persuasive. First, "self preservation" is an enormous stretch. The U.S. is in absolutely no danger of national extinction if it fails to nation build in any of the aforementioned countries. Hyperbole aside, it's worth clarifying what threat nation building is supposed to alleviate - principally we're talking about terrorism.
It seems obvious to me that there's a huge mismatch between means and ends there. Terrorism is a relatively small problem that's of particularly urgency now. Nation building is a long-term, hugely expensive endeavor that has almost no bearing on whether a jihadist will strap a bomb to his privates and board a domestic airliner. Consider the number of jihadists that were born and raised in non-failed states. The top leadership of al Qaeda hails from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our erstwhile Christmas Crotch Bomber was raised in Nigeria and educated (and possibly radicalized) in London. Not a single 9/11 hijacker came from what we would call a failed state. Pakistan, the epicenter of jihadist terrorism, is not a failed state (at least, not yet) and certainly wasn't a failed state in 2002-2003, when al Qaeda took up shop there. Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, is not a failed state.
Second, may I suggest to Boot that the absolute quickest way to ensure that countries with "large, discontented Muslim populations" become national security threats is to insert large numbers of American soldiers and bureaucrats in there offering their services and advice on how to run their political institutions.
Now, of course, the argument goes that these failed states provide a safe haven for terrorists. Which is true. But that doesn't mean that equipping a "Colonial Office" (Boot's words) is the right answer. First, it would take decades, and billions if not trillions, of dollars to effectively shore up a failed state like Afghanistan or Yemen. None of that alleviates the terrorist threat today, nor would it stop terrorists from leaking out into other failed states. It also has no impact whatsoever on whether Western Muslims become radicalized and launch attacks on their own.
It's hard to see what good, from a national security perspective, improving our nation building capacity would actually do. And I suspect that many hawkish nation building advocates would blanch at the notion of taking a significant chunk from the Pentagon's budget and giving it to the State Department for shoring up their civilian nation building capacity. Which tells you all you need to know about how urgent a national security priority this really is.
Here's Boot again:
Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakersâ?? knee-jerk revulsion against â??nation building.â? They seem to imagine that if we donâ??t develop these capacities we wonâ??t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well.
First, I'm not sure that sending aid and support to Haiti during this unprecedented disaster is unpopular. It seems pretty popular to me.
But more importantly, the notion that America has "no choice" but to do "x" is false and frankly pernicious. The U.S. always has a choice. In 2003, for instance, we could not have invaded and occupied Iraq. Presto - no nation building problems.