The Reconstruction Myth

“Imperial Reconstruction”
Peter Van Buren
The American Conservative
August 16, 2012

Twenty-four year State Department veteran Peter Van Buren issues a damning screed against the neocon conceit that reconstruction is about remaking countries in our own image.

I’m going to pick up Van Buren’s book. The idea that post-war reconstruction should be about remaking countries to look like mini-USAs is not a new one, but it finds its roots in the idealism of the Kennedy administration, and it has become a meme of the Neoconservatives. The approach stands in marked contrast to the way we undertook reconstruction in conquered and/or devastated nations after World War II. Say what you want about MacArthur in Japan and the occupation of West Germany, the polities that emerged in those countries in the 1950s were born of a democratic self-image that we enabled rather than foisted upon them.

We were as horribly prepared, both in terms of worldview, doctrine, and assets, to engage in national reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, as we were in South Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans. Something is broken. Whether it is in the conceit that we can rebuild nations in our image or whether we can rebuild them at all is the question.

I remain a subscriber to Thomas P.M. Barnett‘s approach to multi-agency efforts to improving the lot of failed states, but I think we need to recognize that our failure to un-fail those states needs to be thoroughly examined before we engage in any further missionary activity.

The largest problem, and the one that seems to set our post-WWII efforts apart from our post-1960 efforts, is that we have allowed our ideologies to get in the way. We have made it our goal to export democracy rather than to put into place a government that can start feeding, clothing, housing, and employing its people first.

What is more, we have to get private enterprise off of the battlefield and out of the reconstruction business. I am no fan of big government, but shifting some burdens to private enterprise makes the more costly and less accountable, and that undermines our own democracy, not to mention or well-intentioned efforts on the ground.

Read Van Buren’s article and see what you think.