Sunday, May 13, 2012

downsized ambitions

I keep seeing indications that maybe the United States doesn't really know how to do nation-building overseas. I like the ideas I see in the military manuals and the strategic plan briefings, but somehow they often fail in practice, despite enormous efforts by dedicated professionals.

Today we have the sad story of cutbacks and failed efforts in Iraq, where the civilian training efforts for Iraqi police have been spurned by the recipients. Instead of a 16,000-person embassy, the bulk of them contractors, we are cutting back to around 12,000 -- and many of them will do less than expected because of security concerns. I've long supported a strengthened and enlarged "civilian capacity" for foreign policy activities, but I'm dismayed by how things have worked out.

It also appears that U.S. ambitions have been downsized in Afghanistan, when General Allen is scrapping much of the counter-insurgency strategy in order to speed U.S. withdrawals. Did we get the strategy wrong before? Or are we getting it wrong now? I don't know. But I do know that the American people support the downsizing, and that's a powerful incentive.

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