View Full Version : Military Review Nov Dec 08 Reconstruction: a Damaging Fantasy?

Tom Odom
11-05-2008, 05:06 PM
This one is most definitely worth the read:

Reconstruction: a Damaging Fantasy? (http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/repository/MilitaryReview_200812310001-MD.xml)

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, took a break from his diplomatic duties during a recent visit to Washington, D.C., to attend a dinner with a small group of intellectuals and discuss what American society will be like circa 2050. the dinner conversation was a stimulating and affable give and take, until dessert was served and a discussion of Afghanistan began. One of the American dinner guests suggested that the conceit that the West could reconstruct Afghanistan was highly unrealistic— and so was the notion that the U.S. could do this in other countries from Iraq to East Timor to Haiti. indeed, he argued, the resulting failures were damaging to the West’s resolve and credibility. Steinmeier’s aide responded passionately, arguing that reconstruction in Afghanistan was progressing very well indeed. He pointed to the 2,000 schools that have been built since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, to the vast increase in the number of children educated (including 1.5 million girls), and to the 4,000 kilometers of brand new paved roads.

Rex Brynen
11-05-2008, 05:29 PM
A very thought-provoking piece, Tom. All too often we over-estimate our ability to reconstruct and social engineer. We also have a terrible record or raising local expectations with grand announcements at donor pledging conferences—and then dashing those local expectations when things on the ground change only slowly and marginally. The aid community, at times, does some very stupid things.

That having been said, the article does give rather short shrift to the successes of aid around the world, including in post-conflict environments. Its particular recommendations of how aid should be delivered seem poorly informed by years of accumulated experience on the ground: continued humanitarian aid is not always the best response when it has the effects of encouraging aid dependency and depressing local food production, for example; the provision of primary school education is usually rated by conflict-afflicted populations as a high and immediate priority, and not merely as a long-term investment; and so forth. As for "keeping old elements" in place, whether this is a good idea or not is entirely context-specific. I hardly think East Timor would have been a greater success had Indonesian administrators been asked to stay on, and for all the justified criticism of excessive de-Baathification in Iraq, the credibility of regime transition there certainly required some degree of de-Baathification in the eyes of the Shii'te and Kurdish (majority) population.

It seems to me that security, politics, and development are each necessary, but not sufficient, conditions of long-term stabilization. We need to be wary about over-claiming what any one leg of the triad can achieve, constantly reexamine entrenched wisdoms (without losing sight of valuable experiences), and seek to refine approaches—all the time recognizing that approaches, and indeed the balance between the three elements, is highly context dependent.

Tom Odom
11-05-2008, 05:35 PM

Agree on all points. I just thought it was a good piece and rather daring for Mil Review, breaking out of the we only do military mentality when it comes to subject matter.

I am for one an advocate of foreign assistance--if it is targeted and limited to specific goals. I do not like open ended commitments or the fire-hose strategy for massive assistance based on the idea of spending your way to victory.


William F. Owen
11-05-2008, 06:53 PM
This article is extremely useful. Excellent find Tom.

I especially like the countering of the "poverty breeds terrorism" drivel, and he addressed a few issues very dear to my heart!


11-05-2008, 09:24 PM
As I first opened the article and looked at the author's name, I said to myself: "I'm going to disagree with this one." Not so, after reading the article. Here's the reason for the first impression and the reason for the second.

Etzioni's Wiki bio starts off with:

Amitai Etzioni (b. Werner Falk, 4 January 1929, Cologne, Germany) is a German-Israeli-American sociologist, known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism. He was a founder of the communitarian movement in the early 1990s and established the Communitarian Network to disseminate the movement’s ideas. His writings emphasize the importance for all societies of a carefully crafted balance between rights and responsibilities and autonomy and order. ....


Etzioni had significant influence on both Clintons, for example. Since my own political philosophy for the US has a libertarian slant (yup, I know, hope is not a strategy), the concept of a "carefully crafted" balance raises hackles.

That "carefully crafted balance" will be crafted by government under Etzioni's political philosophy. The libertarian would say that a better balance will be achieved if society develops its own balance through interactions, with a little governmental interference as possible. So, that's the reason for the first impression.

But, if you think about "nation building", that process does require a plan - in Etzioni's words "a carefully crafted balance". The alternative, I suppose, is to leave the "host nation" quickly, after "presenting them with a copy of the Federalist Papers" (credit: John Bolton). If "nation building" is the option selected, then Etzioni's approach makes sense in that context. In short, I agreed with the article in its context.

While Bolton and I would likely agree on the usefulness of the Federalist Papers to the US republican form of governance, that format scarcely fits all. For example, my own belief (from the early 60s to the present), as to the Americas south of the border, is that generally those countries would be best served by a form of neo-socialism - as a counter to Castro-communism and Peronist-populism (e.g., Chavez). Obviously, I would have made a poor bedfellow for COL King. I present that idea - not for its intrinsic worth (if any); but to illustrate that the political system, that one would dislike for one's own country, might be the most acceptable political system in another country or countries.

Hat tip to Tom (JMM got it right this time) Odom for the article - and also for the comment that:

... rather daring for Mil Review, breaking out of the we only do military mentality when it comes to subject matter.

Brief explanation: today, I'm on a "the military should educate the civilians on relevant policy issues" kick.