- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Even as we speak, a vanguard of 400 British troops have entered Macedonia in an effort to determine whether a 3,500-strong NATO force can be deployed to disarm the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA). If approved by Gen. Joseph Ralston, supreme commander of NATO in Europe, who was in the Macedonian capital this week, Italians, Greek, German, Spanish and Turkish troops will be coming in to reinforce the British.

Wonder where we heard before that the Europeans were going to take care of things? Those who have followed the Balkan crisis from the early 1990s, from Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia's declarations of independence, will recall that at the time European leadership was nothing more than a tattered rag. In Kosovo, it was the American bombing campaign, however inelegantly applied, which brought an end to Serbian attacks on the local Albanian population. Unfortunately, these are the very same Albanians whom NATO is now trying to control in Macedonia. This time, the United States is meant to supply only logistical and medical support. We shall see.

Now, the Bush administration has been all over the map when it comes to the Balkans. President Bush has reluctantly, but to the huge relief of our European allies, stated that as "we went in together, we shall go out together." However, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in July told The Washington Times that he has no less than three surveys under way to review U.S. troop deployments around the world with the purpose of bringing down the number. Indeed, there is no great appetite for getting involved in Macedonia among this administration.

So, as we contemplate yet another commitment, it is thought-provoking to pick up Gary Dempsey and Roger Fontaine's new book, "Fools Errands: America's Recent Encounters with Nation Building," published by the Cato Institute.

Over the past 10 years, the United States has embarked on four major nation-building exercises in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Billions of dollars in U.S. aid and military deployments have been expended. Has it been worth it? The authors take a dim view, as one might expect from the Cato imprint. What is particularly interesting, though, is how much the terms of the debate have changed since the highlights of the Clinton administration's Wilsonian adventures.

Comments such as the following from National Security Adviser Tony Lake's speech at Johns Hopkins University in September 1993, titled "From Containment to Enlargement," today sound almost quaint. "We need to pursue our humanitarian agenda not only by providing aid but also by working to help democracy and market economies take root in regions of greatest humanitarian concern," he said. In fact, it took just until the death of 18 U.S. servicemen in Somalia the same fall to delete "nation-building" from the Clinton foreign policy vocabulary though "military operations other than war" as a concept was there to stay.

What has changed since the heady days when "democratic enlargement" passed for a strategic goal is twofold: The election of George W. Bush brought us Colin Powell instead of Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice instead of Sandy Berger (or instead of Richard Holbrooke and Leon Fuerth, as the case would have been in a Gore administration). Secondly, the lessons of the two Clinton terms contained serious reality checks.

Messrs. Dempsey and Fontaine are entirely correct in pointing out the wastefulness of overly optimistic expectations. The authors of "Fools Errands" argue persuasively that we saw in the 1990s a false comparison between the nation-building that followed World War II in Germany and Japan and anything attempted by the Clinton administration in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia or Kosovo. Demands for "Marshall Plans" for all and sundry were fruitless where there were absolutely no political or civil foundations on which to build.

The authors also draw a set of very sensible conclusions: One is that absent the commitment of the American people, the United States will not stay the course. Another is that the nation in question has to be "ready" to be saved. Yet another is that it is seriously problematic to get tangled in the agenda of the warring sides in a civil war. Furthermore, there are risks provoking regional antagonisms against U.S. power, which encourage alliances against us, and overextending the U.S. military to the detriment of national security. During the Clinton years, we witnessed both.

Yet, even if idealistic expectations have been disappointed and even if we should ask a lot more from our national leaders when it comes to commitments abroad, there is the demand of basic humanity that a nation such as the United States cannot ignore. David Rieff, deputy editor of World Policy magazine has written that "what rules in Bosnia is not peace but an absence of war." For a lot of people around the world, an "absence of war" has a rather appealing ring to it. In the post-Clinton, post-nation-building era, there will still be times when it falls to the United States to help ensure "an absence of war." This is where Macedonia comes in.


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