Nation Building’s Newest Disguise

Many analysts and politicians have claimed that the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States provide concrete evidence that the United States should incorporate “nation building”[1] into its national security strategy as a tool for preventing the formation or continued existence of states where international terrorists can organize and operate. The more partisan of those observers further claim that George W. Bush was wrong to criticize nation building during the 2000 presidential campaign and that the Clinton administration’s much-maligned efforts in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo are vindicated as a result.[2] Such claims, however, are simplistic and amount to little more than an attempt to dress up nation building in the realist attire of national self-interest.

[1] Nation building can take many shapes, from full-scale occupation or establishing a UN protectorate to seizing command of a capital and installing a sympathetic government or manipulating local politics by using diplomatic pressure and financial aid.

[2] See, for example, Al Hunt, “The Gore Nightmare,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 29, 2001; and former Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate George Mitchell, quoted in Ramesh Ponnuru, “Get Realist,” National Review, Dec. 31, 2001.

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