October 10, 2001
7:24 AM   Subscribe

Should the United States embark on a nation building exercise in Afghanistan a’la post-WWII Germany & Japan? (more questions inside)
posted by CRS (22 comments total)
Lots of people have complained that the U.S. is simply going to bounce the rubble in Afghanistan, then leave, allowing other Afghan warlords to take the Taliban’s place. Should we instead set up shop, occupy the country, and attempt to instill a democratic form of government? Would the creation of a free press and professional bureaucratic class, along with imposition of Western-style representative government solve the problems over there? Or are other factors, such as extreme poverty and cultural differences too difficult to overcome?
posted by CRS at 7:24 AM on October 10, 2001

Build a Nike factory, throw down a few Wal-Marts so they can spend their wages, start a television station. . . let the future roll from there.

Being snarky, but I think that's an excellent question. Why do lawmakers shy away from this issue? Colonialist thinking?

I think it comes down to the arrogance the U.S. has been accused of all along. What gives us the right to smash a bad regime and build our idea of a good one?

Why stop in Afghanistan?
posted by spslsausse at 7:40 AM on October 10, 2001

Nation-building? No. That's a UN job.

Sticking around to help 'em out? You bet.
posted by aramaic at 7:49 AM on October 10, 2001

spslsausse, because we can. If a government that feels it is not only acceptable, but optimal, to keep half of its citizens (in this case women) from getting an education, working, surviving, it should (imho) be stopped. Period. end of f'n discussion. This is not a matter of american arrogance, it is a matter of human rights.

Why stop in Afghanistan?

I don't think we should.
posted by jbelshaw at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2001

Good Lord. This person is genuinely advocating imperialism. This is what my mum used to say to me while pointing at an old map of the empire and explaining the superiority of British courts, democracy and press.

Thing is, it doesn't actually work. The British left India peacefully but our withdrawal led to the creation of Pakistan and Pakistan created the Taliban. You can go into Afghanistan and impose whatever you like with military force, but that doesn't quell religious and tribal fighting, it exacerbates it.

Unless you're advocating a permanent military presence, once the colonising power has retreated, the thugs move in. It happened in the middle east, Africa, Yugoslavia, India. More or less anywhere where a major world power has shaped a country in its own image and then retreated. It happened to Britain after the Roman left. The infrastructure collapsed and the barbarians moved in.

Another point: Germany and Japan are not legitimate comparisons. Germany may have gone through a period of madness, but only twenty years before it was a democratic country the same as France and Britain. No-one 'civilized' Germany after the war - the country of Beethoven and Goethe. They didn't need to. The same goes for Japan.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't think anyone does. But this isn't it. Andthis article is wrong on so many counts it would actually take another article to put it right.
posted by Summer at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2001

I don't know about building a whole infrastructure for them, but if we could just beam in episodes of "Alias", the nation as a whole would be too listless and apathetic to cause any trouble.
posted by dong_resin at 7:56 AM on October 10, 2001

I'm telling you: Wal-Mart and McDonald's.

All we need to do is plant the seeds and the rest will follow.
posted by spslsausse at 7:58 AM on October 10, 2001

Lots of people have complained that the U.S. is simply going to bounce the rubble in Afghanistan, then leave, allowing other Afghan warlords to take the Taliban’s place.

Actually, I don't think this has been a complaint, at least not from the left. In fact, Tony Blair's speeches last week showed a willingness to learn from earlier mistakes in Afghanistan. Quite simply, the US and UK won't get away with leaving the Afghans behind, and I suspect there's no intention to do so.

The main problem facing any potential "nation-building" project is that there's not necessarily a nation to build in the manner of Germany or Japan. As we've learned over the past month, what outsiders call "Afghanistan" is, in fact, a fairly disparate collection of ethnic and regional communities: a messier Balkans. Perhaps it'd be worth looking at the west African defence force in Sierra Leone as an example of how to sustain peace and stability long enough for a political class to emerge, without the semblance of imperialism. Otherwise you might just see a land-grab from all sides, and the creation of a rump Afghan state.

One thought: encourage tourism and volunteer work. Yes, it'd involve a clearup of 20 years of military detritus; yes, it'd require a certain amount of sensitivity to ensure that reasonable Islamic sensibilities aren't offended by the arrival of backpacking hordes. But seeing pictures of the place, with its spare austere beauty, reminds me of Nepal, where the impact of tourism and year-outing hasn't spoilt the place too much.

As for Mark Steyn: he's excellent at turning a half-decent argument into something faintly offensive. Same here.
posted by holgate at 8:03 AM on October 10, 2001

If I were an Arab and America installed a government built in their own image after the war, without the support of the Afghan people, I might begin to feel that Osama's accusation that the west aims to eradicate Arab culture and independence is grounded.

It would be politically smarter and better for the country if we were to help the Afghans establish their own form of stable government. The immediate threat after this war will not be from the Afghans, it will be from other terrorist groups that look to gain power and popularity by capitalizing on this war, which they surely will if we do not win the battle taking place within the arena of Arab popular opinion.

Finally, while I think that this is a good question, I find it hard to take this author seriously. I had a hard time reading this article, which was obviously written to be inflammatory. Good judgement or not, at least the authors that are questioning whether or not America deserved this (of course we didn't) honestly believe in what they are writing. Does this guy really believe that colonialism is a good thing?
posted by xammerboy at 8:04 AM on October 10, 2001

Paul Johnson wrote an article on this topic this Saturday. He points out that the 19th Century version of terrorists were pirates, and to finally defeat them, the Western powers undertook the process of establishing colonies.
posted by prodigal at 8:18 AM on October 10, 2001


Germany certainly was civilized along some dimensions. But it also started two global wars which killed tens of millions of people. Definitely not civilized! I think the U.S. was intent on giving Germany the space to rebuild its institutions to prevent this from happening again, and to a large extent succeeded.
posted by prodigal at 8:23 AM on October 10, 2001


Point taken, but I was trying to point out that Germany had some institutions - and very sophisticated institutions at that - to rebuild. 'Civilized' doesn't always mean peaceful or moral. It also wasn't home to warring factions the way Afghanistan is. It's just not the same.
posted by Summer at 8:29 AM on October 10, 2001

As long as US or UN involvement is limited to helping them form their own government (and no sneaky support of one faction over another, CIA covert political operations and all), and as long as it is not a theocratic government, then I'm open to it.
posted by yesster at 8:32 AM on October 10, 2001

Yes, but how do you enforce it yesster? The problem with unstable countries with warring factions is that they tend to overthrow democratically elected governments. We'd have to have a permanent military presence there, a bit like Northern Ireland.
posted by Summer at 8:41 AM on October 10, 2001

Maybe it wouldn't have to be a permanent military presence, just a long running one. For instance, if democratic government could be established, a military force would be needed to preserve it until it took root in succeeding generations. Similar to Japan, which (correct me if I'm mistaken) had no democratic history. A U.S. military occupation of 50+ years successfully installed a democratic tradition.

Granted, Afghanistan is not Japan, what with all the various factions in the former and no culturally ingrained subservience to authority as in the latter. I am just wondering if there is some solution that will not result in continued upheaval.
posted by CRS at 8:48 AM on October 10, 2001

It's not clear how pervasive Bush's position on this is in his government, but he's said pretty clearly that the US is not interested in nation-building. Given the US's experiences in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, etc., it's easy to see why he might think it's not worth trying.

My cynicism (I believe, unlike irony, that cynicism has not yet gone out of style) says that it was worth the effort in Germany and Japan not only because the starting conditions were easier (see summer and holgate comments), but because when rebuilt they'd be good markets.
posted by skyscraper at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2001

I saw Rumsfeld on CSPAN yesterday fielding this type of question. He said that it is not in our interests to set up a government for Afghanistan as it would be in the best interests of the people to do so themselves, being as we are halfway around the world, and of a completely different culture.

I don't know how much say the Defense secretary has about this kind of policy though. I also don't know if that means some kind of "democratic" election as alluded to by others above. I'm a little worried because the more we do there, the more we give to the terrorists to recruit with, unless it really turns out to be obviously beneficial. Any long running military presence over there, so long as there is an Al-Qaeda, is not a good idea for American security.
posted by zangpo at 9:46 AM on October 10, 2001

Here you go: An idea with lots of flaws and potential pitfalls, but I think something along the lines of what must be done if we are to stop perpetuating the cycle of violence that has birthed our present predicament.

Take over Afghanistan. Begin the process of establishing an interim government under the auspices of a stabilizing US military presence which will most likely be there until this war on no one in particular is over (what's the timeline again?).

Next hire the entire Afghan population to build the pipeline from the Caspian to Karachi. Issue shares in said pipeline development company to every citizen, and let them collect a yearly dividend the same way Alaskans do for the pipeline beneath their land (in the meantime use the money to develop infrastructure etc till the people can actually use the dividend for anything other than wiping their asses).

The development project will give everyone in Afghanistan time to rebuild and set up the institutions that the nation sorely lacks. It will also stabilize the nations around Afghanistan: Kahzakstan and Turkmenistan (even Azerbaijan) by giving them an alternative outputS for their oil supplies reinforcing their economies.

The new pipeline will also give Pakistan a new cash infusion and bolster both domestic and foreign confidence in its economy. All it has to do is give up all claims on and assistance to Kashmir.

In this manner the US can stabilize that region, promote all of its lofty foreign policy objectives, establish more progressive governments in these areas and offer the people of these nations an opportunity to make their own mistakes.

yeah I know lots of problems . . .
posted by visiondepot at 10:06 AM on October 10, 2001

A major problem with the pipeline idea is that it is not in the best interests of Russia, and the Russians will have a huge say in what happens in Afghanistan.
posted by aramaic at 10:37 AM on October 10, 2001

whatever the US or West does, i think it will have to involve pan-islam to make it legitimate, else there will always be potential flashpoints.
posted by kliuless at 10:53 AM on October 10, 2001

Don't know anybody's still reading the thread, but...

And this article is wrong on so many counts it would actually take another article to put it right.

May I suggest this article. A lucid analysis of the many factors (geography, economic weakness, ethnic conflict and internal factions, foreign intervention, etc) complicating any attempt to install a government in Afghanistan.

"Because the United States needs a friendly and stable regime in Kabul to facilitate its primary mission of rooting out Osama bin Laden and his Afghan Arabs, it will find itself drawn into an attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan. This is an intractable problem that could draw the United States into a lengthy, costly and ultimately doomed engagement in Afghanistan at the expense of its primary mission."
posted by Dean King at 9:16 PM on October 10, 2001

Excellent article Dean. Thanks.
posted by Summer at 4:27 AM on October 11, 2001

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