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September 14, 2007

The end of nation-building, and what comes after
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Mort Abramowitz and I have a piece in the new National Interest, pouring cold water all over the idea that we know how to radically transform societies and build nations, democratic or otherwise, in 1-3 years -- but insisting that we're not off the hook for responding to strategic and humanitarian catastrophes, and providing long-term help to recover from and prevent them.  Yesterday we blogged a bit about how this plays out in Iraq.

Since the full piece is only accessible by subscription, here's the core point:

Our democracy increasingly lives in a short term world. Candor with the public – about aims, timeframe, and cost – is critical to sustaining long-term support.  Yet it seems that such candor makes it very difficult to get efforts underway.  In the wake of Iraq, frankly, it seems hard to imagine broad public support for nation-building again for some time to come.  Yet unfinished business in Afghanistan, the limbo of Kosovo, the unending urgency of Darfur, and a decade-neglected catastrophe in Congo are only some of the crises that weigh on our conscience and our national interest.  What will we do?

The answer – like the problems – is complex and frustrating.  We will need to change our habits of partnership, or the lack of it, in responding collapsed states.  We will need to change our way of preparing and funding certain foreign activities.  Perhaps most difficult we will need to change our habits of rhetoric.


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