Tuesday, April 26, 2016

nation-building illusions

Steve Walt has a sobering critique of America's -- and the West's -- many failures at post-conflict nation-building.
Using military force to spread democracy fails for several obvious reasons. First, successful liberal orders depend on a lot more than a written constitution or elections: They usually require an effective legal system, a broad commitment to pluralism, a decent level of income and education, and widespread confidence that political groups which lose out in a particular election have a decent chance of doing better in the future and thus an incentive to keep working within the system. Because a lot of social elements need to line up properly for this arrangement to work and endure, creating reasonably effective democracies took centuries in the West, and it was often a highly contentious — even violent — process. To believe the U.S. military could export democracy quickly and cheaply required a degree of hubris that is still breathtaking to recall.

Second, using force to spread democracy almost always triggers violent resistance. Nationalism and other forms of local identity remain powerful features of today’s world, and most people dislike following orders from well-armed foreign occupiers. Moreover, groups that have lost power, wealth, or status in the course of a democratic transition (such as Sunnis in post-Saddam Iraq) will inevitably be tempted to take up arms in opposition, and neighboring states whose interests are adversely affected by a transition may try to stop or reverse it. Such developments are the last thing a struggling democracy needs, of course, because violence tends to empower leaders who are good at it, instead of those who are skilled at building effective institutions, striking deals across factional lines, promoting tolerance, and building more robust and productive economies.
It's especially important to keep these difficulties in mind when reading the supposed military solutions to the fight against ISIL like this from retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
Defeating ISIS and its ilk will require not only engaging them directly through force of arms and overwhelming information operations, but also taking decisive steps to cut off the support they receive from both state and non-state actors. Unfortunately, many of these supporters of ISIS and other Islamic extremists groups come from nations that are nominal U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Persian Gulf kingdoms and Pakistan. Convincing them that such extremists groups are ultimately a threat to their own stability will be difficult, and require great diplomatic dexterity and sophistication. We must resist the entrenched bureaucratic mindset, however, that would look the other way at this double-dealing and clandestine support for ISIS and its allies.
Sure. Piece of cake.

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