Conservatives who criticized President Clinton for sending the military on scores of overseas missions in the 1990s now are supporting nation-building as a major role of the U.S. armed forces.
Much of the conservatives’ criticism was based on the fact that the Clinton administration cut the defense budget and depleted readiness while sending troops on 48 combat missions, humanitarian relief efforts and peacekeeping forays from Somalia to Kosovo to Haiti.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that rebuilding a country would become a top military mission so that al Qaeda terrorists do not take control of ungoverned areas or failed states.
“I was publicly critical of Clinton for neglecting our military — leadership and budget share — and then using it as ‘meals on wheels’ missions such as Kosovo and Rwanda,” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and prominent military analyst. “Clinton never linked these nation-building missions to our national-security interests. Today, in the wake of the attacks on September 11 and the war on terrorism that has roused so many of the terrorist rats out of places like Afghanistan and Iraq, we have no choice but to help rebuild those nations and plant democracy that will vaccinate them against Islamist radicals in the future.”
Many Republicans in Congress criticized sending troops in 1999 to Kosovo, where they remain today, and on other so-called “contingencies.”
The Pentagon this week said nation-building — the creation of indigenous security forces, democratic governments and free-market economies — was now a major military mission comparable to combat and will become part of its doctrine.
“There is an irony that the Bush administration, having expressed skepticism during the 2000 campaign about nation-building, has embarked on the two most ambitious efforts at nation-building since World War II, Germany and Japan,” said P.J. Crowley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Clinton administration spokesman at the National Security Council.
“Now that they have declared this doctrinal, we now have to see a shift in the resources, in the training and education necessary, so that the military can actually adapt and prepare to win not only the war, but the peace in the future,” he said.
The biggest conservative convert on nation-building is President Bush. As a candidate, he sharply criticized the Clinton administration for turning fighting troops into peacekeepers.
Ariel Cohen, a Heritage Foundation research analyst, said yesterday that he agrees with the Pentagon directive.
“Conservatives distinguish between nation-building, which is the creation of national identity where none existed before, and strengthening states, period. We have done that after World War II and during the Cold War extensively around the world.”