- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

The word “empire” has never sat well with most Americans. So when Sen. Richard Lugar introduced the Stabilization and Reconstruction Civilian Management Act, as he did in February, supporters on both sides of the aisle were careful to avoid abbreviations like “colonial office.” This is just as well, since Mr. Lugar’s bill is certainly very non-imperial. In fact, its sole purpose is to streamline the disparate agencies that would otherwise enter a devastated country to help rebuild.

Unfortunately, supporters of the bill also avoided any discussion that would have placed nation building into a larger context. The committee hearing seemed to center around America’s wanton and clumsy habit of rebuilding nations from Somalia to Iraq. Instead, it should have focused on the Bush Doctrine.

Briefly, the Bush Doctrine includes the option of pre-emptively attacking and occupying a nation that threatens our national security. In the last four years, we’ve seen the military part of the Bush Doctrine work spectacularly well, while the rebuilding part is not yet up to American standards of excellence. For the Bush Doctrine to be a viable foreign policy, however, both must work with exceptional efficiency. If the United States were to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan prematurely, our enemies will know that the Bush Doctrine has failed. Consequently, the intimidating threat that pre-emption poses to potential friends of terrorists will disappear. This cannot be allowed to happen. If the United States is to establish nation building as a definitive part of our foreign strategy, as the Bush Doctrine espouses, we need to be doing it better.

The British, during their imperial heyday, did it much better with much less. The British Colonial Office proved that a few expert civilians, backed by a small, well-trained military contingent, can organize and govern a foreign land 10 times the size of England. They were able to do this because, as Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, told us, “they were geniuses at economy of force.” In other words, the British were terribly efficient governors. In India, for example, roughly 1,000 British civilian administrators, strengthened by 70,000 troops, governed 225 million people.

Perhaps because the British didn’t deny that they were in the business of empire, they were able to descend upon an occupied nation with astute single-mindedness. The United States is not in the business of colonial empire — and shouldn’t be. Our occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan will continue only until a stable, independent government is firmly in place. While the United States is in the business of nation building, for better or worse, and has been for over a decade, merely paying lip service to the bromide that America is a liberator, not a conqueror, doesn’t clarify exactly what we are doing and how we should be doing it. The Bush Doctrine provides a practical purpose to nation building: A decently-governed Iraq and Afghanistan are less likely to breed terrorists who would want to kill Americans. This is why we are there.

Nation building in itself should not be a foreign policy. But nation-building capacity should be available to our government when it is needed for our national security. Congress and the administration promptly should work together to develop the bureaucratic mechanisms appropriate to carry out nation building, when and where it is necessary.

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