Leaning over; America's History of Nation-Building

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James Dobbins' "America's Role in Nation-Building" must become essential reading among Washington's bureaucrats and in all six American war colleges. The author, an experienced nation-building (or reconstruction) practitioner, and his co-authors have written a no-nonsense, spare, well-analyzed and lucid volume that illuminates the path for those engaged in this difficult and thankless, but necessary mission.

The authors cover two successes, Germany and Japan; two abject failures, Haiti and Somalia; Bosnia, a "mixed success"; Kosovo, a "modest success"; and one case too early to tell, Afghanistan. The final chapter is an application of lessons from all these case studies to the reconstruction effort in Iraq.

Regarding Germany, Mr. Dobbins' team argues: "The most important lesson from the U.S. occupation of Germany, is that military force and political capital can, at least in some circumstances, be successfully employed to underpin democratic and societal transformation, [and] such a transformation can be enduring."

That gives some reason for optimism in Iraq. In Germany's case (and for that matter in any case where there was some success or hope for it), the authors emphasize the indispensable requirement to get the economy moving, to get people adequately fed, clothed, housed and busy working.

The reconstruction of Japan proved (again, indicating possible optimism for Iraq): "Democracy can be transferred to non-Western societies." Also, "how responsibility for the war is assigned can affect internal political dynamics and external relations for years to come." In Japan, the emperor was whitewashed of war crimes and used by the occupation authorities to pacify his population and to get it to cooperate with the reconstructors.

No American occupiers in Japan (or in Germany) were killed by renegade forces. The book's authors continually refer to the centrality of rehabilitating the Japanese economy to mollify the Japanese people.

Reconstruction in Somalia failed for numerous reasons. Certainly among the most significant was the absolute lack of unified command and control. The two American military forces in Somalia at the time of the military disaster (in which 18 soldiers were killed) were not even under the same command - in fact the control of these two units did not reside on the same continent. Security was never achieved, and, say the authors, "There can be no economic or political development without security. …