This commentary appeared in The New York Times on June 13, 2003.
WASHINGTON -- Washington has long invested heavily in its armed forces' ability
to fight wars, and has seen a remarkable return on that investment. Yet there
has been no comparable progression in American competence at stabilizing and
rebuilding societies emerging from tyranny and war.
After World War II, the United States rebuilt Germany and Japan with great
success. Against this admittedly very high standard, the country's performance
in the 1990's began abysmally, and improved only slowly. While it is too early
to pass final judgment on the Afghanistan and Iraq missions, it would be hard
to present them as improvements over their most recent predecessors, Bosnia
Rebuilding a country of course requires some degree of improvisation. Still,
some things are predictable in the aftermath of a regime change: rioting and
looting, the emergence of extremist figures seeking to fill power vacuums, and
the disintegration of police forces and other groups that maintain security.
With all its recent experience in nation building, the United States should
have been far more adept at handling the expected in Iraq.
Things will improve only if those now in charge pay attention to the lessons
of past operations - particularly the vital roles that troop strength and an
extended commitment have played. Nation-building is an inescapable responsibility
for the world's leading power, and it is a mission the United States needs to
learn to do well.
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Read other commentaries by James Dobbins
and Seth G. Jones.
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