Bush the Builder

By Hippel, Karin von | The World Today, June 2005 | Go to article overview
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Bush the Builder

Hippel, Karin von, The World Today

Bush the Builder International Governance of War-Torn Territories: Rule and Reconstruction by Richard Caplan. Published by Oxford University Press, 2005,291 pages, £50

THE SUPREME IRONY OF NATION-BUILDING-HATER PRESIDENT George Bush establishing and micro-managing a United States military-led government in Iraq - á Ia General Douglas MacArthur in Japan - with a posse of US military and civilian bureaucrats in key ministries, has not been lost. This from the same man who, when debating with Vice-President Al Gore the day before the 2000 presidential election, remarked, 'Let me tell you what else I'm worried about: I'm worried about an opponent who uses nation-building and the military in the same sentence.'

At that time, his soon-to-be National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, outlined what would initially become Bush's security strategy. In Foreign Affairs she wrote.

'The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society.'

The tragedy of September 11 2001 reversed Bush's approach, and more closely aligned it with the activist foreign policy of his father and President Bill Clinton. Although it could also be argued that his volte-face perhaps reflects sudden immersion in the realities of foreign policy-making, rather than a policy conversion.

Not only did Bush endorse military-assisted nation-building in Afghanistan and in Iraq, he even sent troops into Liberia on a humanitarian mission in August 2003, a country not exactly considered to be of vital interest to the US.

Yet despite the embrace of Clinton's policy, the administration has not incorporated the lessons of the 1990s with similar vigour, particularly in the case of Iraq, which, unlike Afghanistan, was intended from the start to be an all-out nation-building exercise.

Richard Caplan's timely and excellent new book should be required reading for the Bush team, as well as other policy makers and analysts. Lessons from recent experiences in international territorial administrations would certainly have been helpful in Iraq.


When the UN administrations in Kosovo and East Timor were set up in 1999 and 2000, many thought they were one-offs, that the UN and other international actors would not and should not be governing countries or territories, and that the circumstances of the two cases were, in the words of the Security Council, 'unique' and 'exceptional' enough to warrant such extraordinary measures.

In both Kosovo and East Timor, the UN was vested with all aspects of government, from issuing currencies, passports, licence plates and identity documents, to setting up local councils in the municipalities to providing security to the ordinary citizen through executive policing, to troops preventing - when possible - revenge killings.

In both cases, the special representative of the Secretary General acted as pro-consuls, often blocking local initiatives felt to be counter to the purpose of the mission, with little to no oversight. Some even accused them of dictatorial behaviour, yet today Kosovo and East Timor are clearly on the democratic path.


Caplan's book starts with a typology of international administrations, then discusses the models in practice - referring primarily to the international operations in Bosnia, Croatia (Eastern Slavonia), Kosovo, and East Timor. It also brings in the International Control Commission for Albania - 1913-14, the League of Nations administration of the Saarland - 1920-35, the allied occupation of Germany and Japan, the UN administration of trusteeship territories and various peace operations.

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