Nation building has a controversial reputation. It invokes images of United States soldiers involved in a complicated, and costly vain attempt to fix other countries problems. In this paper, I will assume the role of a foreign policy advisor, who is tasked to present a briefing to the President and Secretary of State on the failure of our nation building mission in Iraq.
Dear Mr. President and Madam Secretary of State,
The record of past United States’ experience in nation building is quite daunting. The low rate of success particularly in Iraq is a haunting reminder that this is one of the most challenging foreign policy ventures to be undertaken by this nation. I believe that the nation building efforts in Iraq were a failure. Not a single American nation building initiative has made smooth transition to democracy. Notably, some of the elements that experience reveals are most critical to success were absent in Iraq. The real test of the American war against Saddam Hussein was whether or not Iraq could be rebuilt following this war. Few national missions are as expensive, time consuming and complex as reconstructing governing institutions of overseas nations. Even a recipe of copious wealth and unsurpassed military power does not necessary translate to fast results. In history, nation building efforts by other countries are mainly notable for their harsh disappointments and not their achievements.
Without a doubt, the United States, among great powers, is the most active nation building. Ever since Vietnam, the challenge of post war Iraq has represented the most ambitious nation building project by America. The internal elements of Iraqi society have strongly tested America’s skill, resolution, and persistence in pursuing its declared objective of political transformation. Iraq, which has a population of 24 million, is bigger than any country in Latin America where the United States had previously attempted nation building. When American neo-conservatives celebrated the invasion of Iraq as a turning point in Middle East democracy, they ignored an important factor; Iraqi’s deep religious and ethnic divisions as compared with other nations. The long running religious and ethnic hostility among the dominant ethnic groups in Iraq namely: the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, significantly complicated the American effort, because each of these groups had a major motivation to exploit the American presence in order to advance its own agenda ( ). Tristam pointed this out in his article, “â€¦simmering hatreds between the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds are boiling to the surfaceâ€¦” ( ). However, former Secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld famously quoted that, “â€¦we are not in Iraq to engage in nation building; the mission is to help Iraqis to build their own nationâ€¦” ( ). Rumsfeld argued that nation building in both nations would accomplish something because America was prepared to use a new form of nation building which strived to help Iraqis in rebuilding their country instead of one that focused on dictating the reconstruction plan. Rumsfeld strongly believed that the biggest threat to Iraqi peace and nation building came from former dictator Saddam’s friends and terrorists. But, this was not the case; the biggest threat was the power struggle by the main ethnic and religious tribes, all of who did not want to share power. The United States found itself continuously judged for even-handedness on an array of local problems in Iraq, where there was no good answer. More challenging was the cleansing of the new Iraqi state of aspects loyal to Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baathist regime, which bore a resemblance to a Leninist party state; a scenario where the party and state are the same.
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The rebuilding of Iraqi’s national capacity, entailing the training, and recruitment of new civil servants, law officers, and judges is certainly taking longer, than expected. The most challenging task in the American nation building efforts in Iraq has been aligning American strategic interests with the Iraqi public and elite’s interests. For example, the Kurds evidently revealed strategic interest in separation differences with American stated policy of protecting the territorial integrity of Iraq ( ). Furthermore, the receptivity of other Iraqi ethnic groups to American presence in their soil was unclear. America found it nearly impossible to convince the Shiites and Sunnis that their long-term interests overlapped with American interests. In spite of America’s best attempts at projecting a vision of its long-term goals for Iraq, its main agenda was still suspicious in Iraq.
The long-term vision for nation building efforts in Iraq would have likely been enhanced if the United Nations managed the efforts, which had been managing similar situations in countries such as East Timor, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Certainly, a bilateral approach to nation building does not yield success; nation building efforts by the United Nations have brought its own set of issues and challenges. However, the advantages of the bilateral approach that the United Nations normally exude, particularly in nation building, outweigh the challenges. Politically, such an approach would have healed the wounds caused by the bitter conflict between America and many countries before the Iraqi war. A United Nations led nation building effort, in all likelihood would have been observed as a more legal effort, mainly in Muslim countries or in the Middle East. At least, suspicions about America’s secret motives in Iraq would have been partly dispelled, and perhaps a United Nations led nation building reconstruction, would have succeeded.
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