Our current travails in Iraq should chasten those who look at the world, survey its failing, troubled or tyranny-plagued states and are struck by a burning desire to reinvent them according to the American model.
We’re now being reminded the hard way that it’s never as easy, bloodless or pain-free in practice as ivory-tower theorists imagine it will be.
But if the United States intends to continue gallivanting about the globe, warring against rogue regimes and rescuing others from instability, starvation, chaos and genocide (much of it self-inflicted), an argument might be made that a specialized federal agency is needed to do the work of nation-building. That’s an argument, however, that we find deeply troubling.
Right now, as in Iraq, much of the responsibility for nation-building falls to a military that is more appropriately used for toppling regimes than replacing them. And so some in Washington are seeking to relieve the Pentagon of that duty and place it elsewhere.
But which federal agency would we trust with the job? Would we really like to have the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been an abject failure at rebuilding America’s inner cities, in charge of reconstructing entire nations? Probably not.
But that image hasn’t deterred Washingtonians who think they’ve come up with a better idea.
No one’s calling it the U.S. Department of Nation-Building, Nations R Us or the Federal Colonialization Administration, but that, in effect, is what is being proposed in certain circles.
The Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act of 2004, introduced by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Joseph Biden, D-Del., would create what they describe as a civilian “response-readiness corps” for deployment to parts of the world that require a makeover, American-style.
This proposal follows last year’s push by Sens. John Edwards, D-N.C., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to establish a “director of reconstruction” after every future American intervention.
Instead of conducting these destruction-then-reconstruction operations on an ad-hoc basis, as we seem to do every few years, these new entities would help “institutionalize” nation-building, according to proponents. But wouldn’t this also create a brand new federal bureaucracy that in only a few short years might actually be lobbying for American interventions overseas in order to increase its budget and staffing levels and give it something to do?
And doesn’t it also suggest that nation-building is something we’ll be involved in forever more? We fear it would.
The best way to get the Pentagon out of the nation-building business is to get America out of the nation-building business, or at least make it such a rarity that a special federal agency isn’t required to keep up with growing demand. We’re not sure whether the public’s enthusiasm for a future filled with such misadventures is in any way being dampened by our current experience in the Middle East. But we think it ought to be.