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Nation-building, once scorned, is embraced

Bush administration ramps up postwar rebuilding efforts after hard lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 31, 2005



WASHINGTON

The weekly meeting of regional assistant secretaries of State is a time-honored affair. But when the State Department's recently named coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization, Carlos Pascual, was invited into last week's meeting, it was a sign of evolved thinking in the Bush administration.

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After all, here is an administration that once eschewed nation-building and other forms of "soft power" as quiche eaters' social work. Moreover, the State Department is headed by a woman who once derided the Clinton White House for sending off soldiers to escort school kids in conflict zones.

Yet now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is commanding an effort to give new importance to postconflict reconstruction, and the White House is pumping more money into finding innovative ways of addressing failed states around the world. Among its ideas: developing coordinated efforts by public and private forces and the military for intervening in crisis situations.

Underlying the change is a realization - after wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were envisaged as quick operations for regime change but have evolved into long-term rebuilding commitments - that the 21st century requires smarter approaches to weak but potentially threatening states.

"There's been a sea change in thinking as a result of the engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq," says James Dobbins, a former diplomat in the Bush and Clinton administrations.

"This administration came in not only opposed to involvement in peacekeeping and engaging US forces in these activities, but also skeptical even if other people were doing them," says Mr. Dobbins, now director of the Rand Corp.'s International Security and Defense Policy Center in Arlington, Va. "Now they recognize these kinds of missions are unavoidable, so they are putting a new emphasis on developing more effective and rapid-response ways of doing them."

Noting that Secretary Rice often speaks of "transformational diplomacy," the new undersecretary for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, told an audience here last week that there is "no better example of what she means by that than this office" for reconstruction and stabilization.

Even the Pentagon seems on board

Perhaps even more telling of the changed thinking is the extent to which the Pentagon has signed on to the new effort. When the Defense Science Board last year issued a study criticizing preparations for Iraq and postwar stabilization planning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld not only embraced the report but directed staff to find ways to implement its recommendations for doing things better next time.

The Pentagon is putting more effort into expanding and training military police, engineers, and civil affairs officers that play key roles in these kinds of deployments - and were found lacking in the Bush first-term engagements.

In addition, Mr. Rumsfeld supported creation last year of the coordinator for stabilization and reconstruction in the State Department - a position that ran counter to his image of keeping State in the dark and out of matters comprising military deployment.

Mr. Burns says the office for reconstruction and stabilization, which will draw on work in agencies ranging from the CIA and Treasury to the US Agency for International Development, will focus on "getting civilian expertise to our military leaders as they plan operations and undertake" them.

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