Nation-building, once scorned, is embraced
Bush administration ramps up postwar rebuilding efforts after hard lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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The administration is still reluctant to appear as a proponent of nation-building - or at least to adopt the terminology. "If you ask them if they've embraced nation-building, they would say 'We don't do nation-building, but we do help people build their nations," says Mr. Dobbins. But what they're doing, he adds, is basically nation-building by another name.Skip to next paragraph
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One reason for the reluctance to embrace the concept beyond mere face-saving is that Congress, for various reasons, remains skeptical of the administration's new interest in global intervention. "We're seeing an appetite in Congress to limit funding and put conditions on it in this area, whether it's to the UN or to the administration's requests," says Victoria Holt of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington.
Congress approved less money this year for UN peacekeeping than the White House sought, and substantially less - $3 million compared to a requested $17 million - for the office for reconstruction and stabilization. And Congress failed to approve creation of a contingency fund for emergency interventions - such as to Haiti last year - although President Bush is trying again for $100 million to set up such a fund in 2006.
The impact of Iraq is a major reason for the hesitancy on the Hill, on both sides of the aisle. Liberals fear the Bush White House might use such a fund to undertake new regime-change adventures - such as in Iran or Syria - while conservatives stress how Iraq demonstrates a costly transition of military interventions into nation-building. "The opposition seems to come from the idea that if we get good at this kind of thing, we'll just do more of it," says Dobbins.
The Bush administration is showing new interest in peace operations at a time when other countries and international organizations are also stepping up such activity. The United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and the African Union - even the G-8 - are all either setting up new bodies like rapid-reaction corps, or pressing reforms to improve peace and stabilization operations. "The whole world is trying to figure out how to do this better," says Ms. Holt.
She agrees the Bush administration has undergone a striking transformation in its approach to intervention and stabilization, but says it is still uncertain how dedicated the US really is. For one thing, she says the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN raises questions about the commitment to peace operations.
"He's long been a major skeptic on peacekeeping," she says. "Either he's shifted fundamentally, or the administration is signalling through his appointment a change in what had been an improving view of such international operations."
Holt says the crisis and ethnic killings in Darfur, Sudan, will test the administration's new interest in improving international intervention. But she adds that Darfur also offers an example of how the administration is going to have to do more than talk about intervention or coordinate better among agencies if it is really going to make a difference.
"There's going to have to be more leadership," she says, "to convince the country, but really the critics on the Hill, that there's something to be gained from improving the US capacity for such operations."