Building three nations at once
The US is now supporting the formation of new regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestinian territories.
With the commitment to create a Palestinian state by 2005, the United States finds itself in the extraordinary position of directing the building of three states at the same time.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Any one of the three - the post-Taliban reconstruction of Afghanistan, the birth of a democratic government in Iraq, and now the creation of a Palestinian state - is complex on its own. But the tasks will be particularly difficult given the time frame the Bush administration has laid out in each case.
President Bush and other leaders have cited America's great success in rebuilding Germany and Japan into prosperous democracies following World War II, with the implication that the world's sole superpower, wealthier and more militarily powerful than ever, can do at least as well today.
But experts point out that a host of forces are at work that will make such efforts problematic at best. Among them:
• The perception that America in general - and the Bush administration in particular - doesn't have the patience or stamina for seeing through such time-consuming projects.
• A domestic political scene, including next year's presidential election, that will work against keeping the full commitment to such projects.
• Interference from local detractors of the American vision for a particular national project. (Bush was barely back on US soil, for example, before the Palestinian group Hamas exited cease-fire talks, and attacks erupted in the occupied territories.)
• The likelihood that other international crises - such as North Korea - will siphon off interest from the nation-building component of the war on terror.
"All of this seems like a great commitment, given the extent of President Bush's reluctance to get involved in foreign affairs so deeply when he first came into office," says Joseph Montville, a senior associate specializing in preventive diplomacy at the Center for Strategic and Security Studies in Washington. "But the US has a tradition of this kind of engagement," he adds, "and to some extent that appears to be what we're getting back to."
Still, with the US standing by as a post-Taliban Afghanistan reverts to balkanized warlordism, some experts believe the US is already relegating the Central Asian nation's reconstruction to secondary status. Meanwhile, however, the focus of the administration's reconstruction efforts appears to be shifting to Iraq. And in the eyes of many officials and influential advisers to the administration, it is Iraq that will be the Bush presidency's equivalent of the post-World War II reconstruction successes.
Attention to Iraq is unlikely to wane for a variety of reasons. First, the Bush administration, after having fought and won what many considered a "war of choice" there, has a great deal of prestige riding on its postwar success. Too many key policymakers in the administration lobbied for regime change in Iraq as the key to refashioning the Middle East into a stable, threat-free region, for the US to go light on Iraq's rebuilding, experts say.