Innumerable authors describe why American efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq failed disastrously; fewer explain how we could have done it right. That’s the purpose of this closely reasoned political science lesson.
In her latest book, Gregg (Defense Analysis/Naval Postgraduate School; The Path to Salvation: Religious Violence from the Crusades to Jihad, 2014, etc.) argues that U.S. leaders focused on the “state” at the expense of the “nation,” and their first mistake was to conflate the two. A “state” is a legally recognized territory that provides services for its population in exchange for its loyalty. A “nation” is a group that shares a common past and traditions and perhaps a language. In its obsession with state-building, the U.S. spent perhaps as much as $1 trillion to provide an army, police, public utilities, courts, education, health care, and (an obsession) elections. American officials failed to understand that people “need to identify with their country on a personal level, share its norms, and believe in their common destiny.” Gregg’s advice will remind readers of the “winning hearts and minds” campaign from the Vietnam War. In fact, winning hearts and minds worked whenever America tried it in Vietnam as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. The disadvantage is that it’s expensive and takes a long time, so leaders soon discard it in favor of tactics that seem cheaper and quicker: currently, drones and Special Forces. The author admits that nation-building is not a program that can be completed “in five, ten, or fifty years. Rather, building the state and nation is an ever-continuing process that requires constant adjustments to meet the demands of the people, their sense of national unity, and the role of the state.”
A scholarly education in the elements of effective government, although readers may conclude that no amount of insight can provide a happy outcome to wars that should not have been fought in the first place.