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Thursday, March 18

Nation building becomes key part of U.S. policy

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - One of the little-noticed but lasting legacies of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism is how the once-scorned notion of ``nation building'' has become a crucial element of American foreign policy.

President Bush once scoffed at the notion of creating a corps of nation builders. But the rocky effort to pacify Iraq and turn it into a Middle East outpost of democracy now has him ready to accept the idea.

It used to be that debates over potential military intervention and long-term occupation were about whether the United States should risk American lives and resources - and possible Vietnam-like entanglement - in cases that did not involve direct American interests, such as the genocidal ``ethnic cleansing'' in the Balkans.

But now nation building, broadly defined as the combined use of military force, physical reconstruction and the restructuring of social institutions to reshape a chaotic or collapsed country, is regarded as a matter of national security, not national conscience.

The country learned on Sept. 11, 2001, just how grave a threat was posed by a small and failed state such as Afghanistan.

Removing a regime like the Taliban by force was the immediate solution. Filling a vacuum that could be replaced by anarchy or another group of extremists called for a complicated effort to remake a country that had known nothing but war and chaos for more than two decades.

Even though Afghanistan is far from being an assured success, the Bush administration added Iraq to its nation building to-do list. That far more risky and ambitious venture is still being carried out by 120,000 U.S. troops, hundreds of diplomats and $18 billion in taxpayers' money - with no end in sight.

And there are easily a dozen or more states governed by tyrants, threatened by insurrection or barely governed at all - think North Korea, Pakistan or Sudan - that could erupt in crises that could draw in the United States. On Thursday, Bush ordered more than 100 U.S. troops to Kosovo as part of a 350-member NATO force to try to quell an eruption of violence that has killed more than two dozen people. It was the worst outbreak of fighting there since the war ended in 1999.

``We have not just declared war on terrorists, but on failed states, which are incubators for these groups,'' Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said in an interview. ``Nation building is something we have to do now, even though people have not articulated this seismic shift in policy.''

Painful experience

The problem is, nation building is not something the United States - or any other country - does particularly well.

To be successful, nation building requires more than good intentions and a mountain of money.

The list of potential needs and skills is almost boundless. A sample would include: a detailed understanding of a given culture; engineers capable of building and repairing bridges, power plants and water treatment facilities; writing and enacting a constitution; creating a legal system and training those in it; creating a skilled diplomatic corps.

But the greatest requirements are experience and a willingness to learn from mistakes that are sometimes tragic.

For example, when the United States restored the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti in 1994, Aristide disbanded the country's hated military. In its place, the United States and its allies trained and built a police force to take its place.

However, the United States failed to create an equally solid judicial and penal system. That meant that when police officers did what they were trained to do and captured a suspect, they ``had to either kill them or let them go,'' said James Dobbins, who led every U.S. nation-building operation from Somalia in 1992 to Afghanistan.

``Either way, it begins to corrupt and destroy the system,'' Dobbins said.

This is only one of multiple reasons behind the recent collapse of Aristide's government, which finds U.S. forces patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince yet again.

'Suppression of memory'

The Clinton administration sought to set in place a system for ensuring that concrete policy goals were clear, planning was more complete and coordination between agencies was improved. This effort began after the fiasco in Somalia, where a famine-relief operation turned nation-building exercise ended abruptly after 18 U.S. troops were killed in a 1993 ambush.

The Clinton policy was spelled out in a document called Presidential Decision Directive 56, or PDD 56, which led to smoother operations in Haiti, Bosnia and elsewhere. But there was no attempt to go further.

``The thing that is really striking about nation building more than any other area of public policy that I have encountered is how little institutional memory there is,'' said Francis Fukuyama of The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

And while Bush has now changed his mind about nation building because of the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York, the Republican disdain for the Clinton-era policies remained.

When it began to plan for Iraq, ``PDD 56 was thrown out the window in the Bush administration. That left us in chaos,'' Fukuyama said. ``It was the intentional suppression of memory.''

The greatest criticism was the U.S. failure to fill the security vacuum when Saddam's government, army and police force collapsed. Fukuyama, Dobbins, Lugar and others blamed it directly on the decision to have the Pentagon run the immediate post-conflict operations.

``Our military forces were sensational in terms of speed and efficiency, but the day after the fighting stopped, the looting began, and the settling of old scores commenced,'' Lugar said. ``It took months for us to recover.''

The dismal experience in Iraq - and the near certainty that more operations are around some unseen corner - has now made it inevitable that some kind of nation-building apparatus will be put in place under the auspices of the State Department.

A bill by Lugar and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., drawn up after consultations with more than a dozen experts in and out of government, would establish a permanent corps of 250 people in the State Department to plan and carry out nation-building operations. It would also create a larger reserve corps that could be drawn in for particular specialties.

Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, is working on a bill to ensure that the United States is drawing up plans and policies as a crisis unfolds.

And State Department and White House officials are working on their own plans, similar to what Lugar and Biden have in mind, but ones that could be put in place without legislation.

But can Washington sell nation building as a top national priority, especially at a time of budget deficits and growing concern about whether the military is spread too thinly already?

``I don't know,'' Lugar said. ``I think that can only be answered by people like me and the president constantly making the case. But these situations are going to occur whether we are ready to respond or not.''

On the Web:

Rand Corporation. Search for nation building and James Dobbins to read articles by him. Also click on ``Books and Publications'' and then click on ``America's Role in Nation-building: From Germany to Iraq.''

New America Foundation. Click ``publications'' and search for ``Francis Fukuyama'' to find Jan. 20, 2004 article on nation building.

Effective Peacekeeping to find the Clinton-era PDD56. Click on site and scroll to Clinton administration Presidential Decision Directives. Click on PDD56 White Paper.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. Go to Press, then Press Releases. Information on nation building bill is in Feb. 26 release.