Wednesday, January 28, 2015

mixed results for nation-building

I used to be a strong supporter of American "nation-building" programs abroad. I thought that careful advance planning, rigorous interagency coordination, and generous resourcing would lead to positive results. I even held out hope for Iraq in 2003, before Rumsfeld and Franks bungled the initial occupation and Bremer destroyed the government institutions we had planned to rely on.

Now I'm skeptical that any of our best laid plans can provide more than a random chance of success.

David Ignatius reinforces my doubts with a fine column about the failure of U.S. policy in Yemen. Indeed, the problems there, he says, are all too typical of outcomes in the rest of the Arab world.
What happened in Yemen is not very different from the stories of other Arab nations shaken by the “Arab Spring” revolutions. Armies that had seemed strong under authoritarian rulers crumpled against insurgents. U.S. military intervention hasn’t checked the disintegration, nor has American retreat. The conclusion is so obvious we sometimes overlook it: This history is being written by the Arabs, not outsiders. Foreign assistance can help strong, broadly based governments but not fragile, polarized ones.
He points to a recent RAND study that reviewed the evidence from 107 countries during 1991-2008.

Among its findings:
• SC [security cooperation programs] was more highly correlated with reduction in fragility in states with stronger state institutions and greater state reach.
• SC was not correlated with reduction in fragility in states that were already experiencing extremely high fragility.
 • The concentration of low state reach, authoritarian regimes, and relatively high levels of fragility in the Middle East and Africa meant that the positive correlation of SC and reduction in fragility was least pronounced in those regions; Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Europe had the best effects.
This suggests that SC may be better at “reinforcing success” or preventing backsliding than
in halting a country’s decline into instability.
 The lesson for me is that, however well-intentioned we may be,it's very hard to get plants like democracy and good governance to grow in hostile soil, intemperate weather, and poor light.

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