Nation-building: Can We, Should We?

While I have a great deal of contempt for the Blame America First crowd, they do have one point that is worth consideration.

America is widely hated because we are seen as an exploiter of weaker nations and a source of cultural corruption. Is it possible for us to get the world to love America through an expanded program of aid and nation-building for failed states and the impoverished Fourth World countries like Afghanistan?

We would need to avoid the desire to remake other countries into little versions of America because that would only make them resent us more, but could we, after we destroy the Taliban, build schools, hospitals and infrastructure, using educated Afghan staff? It seems to me that we could provide the initial funding, but we could help Afghan women set up small businesses using local versions of the Grameen Bank, a source of shared community funds that has lifted thousands of women from poverty in Bangladesh.

Can this be done?


If we’re not going to rebuild them into a nation with laws that respect individual rights then what’s the point? I don’t suppose they would be little Americas but if we did rebuild them then they better be a hell of a lot closer to us then they were to Taliban or then most other nations in the mid-east.

I suppose it could be done. Japan and Germany were rebuilt after WWII with radically different governments. And honestly I think a rebuilding effort should be done as part of our long term goals.


Two words, goboy/-bear: Marshall Plan.

When we provide no-strings help (well, no strings aside from “keep your independence from your neighboring superpower”), we remain well-liked.

When our aid is tied to a particular political stance not the consensus of that country’s people, and in particular when we provide aid for the overthrow of an existing government that is politically at the opposite end of the spectrum from our government of the moment, we get hated.

And of course power-hungry hatemongers do hate us on G.P.

Oh, I’m all for rebuilding Afghanistan into a nation that respects individual rights, but if we just graft a version of our government onto their nation, it will fail. We will need to aid the Afghans as they try to build a democracy in an Afghan, Islamic model.

It’s Gobear, and excellent idea.

Note to self: Do not tease Gobear about his name change.

Forgive me for whining a little, but it’s not just the “Blame America First” crowd that has made mention of this point. Trivial correction I suppose, but I prefer not to be lumped into such a category.

I have been in favor of this idea and have mentioned it a couple of times since I saw Edwino raise the idea here ( 09:35 pm ):

It would be a very costly and long-term project, but I think the benefits ( to us, as well as them ) would be significant. In Afghanistan’s case, I think one could even make the argument that we have some moral imperative to do so, since that country became in effect a theatre of proxy war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. with pretty devastating effects.

If we just take out the Taliban/al Qaida and leave, we’re in for decades of Jihad from Islamic Fundies. I don’t see that we have a choice but to do some nation-building unless we want another generation of anti-american terrorists coming out of Afghanistan. I think we should allow our allies in the area (Saudi Arabia springs to mind first) work closely with us in rebuilding Afghanistan since they are a muslim culture and would prevent the US from making any cultural faux pas that could lead to heightened tension toward the US.

Doesn’t the Red Cross have a ‘sister organization’ called thr Red Crescent that is an islamic version of it? I think they would be a good organization to look into funding in rebuilding Afghanistan after the Taliban/al Qaida are removed.

Truly no-strings aid has a way of coming back and biting you on the ass. Did anyone catch the it’d-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-horrifying exchange about the football stadium on “Behind The Veil?”

The appropriate strings, in a perfect world, are free elections and protection for human rights.

The problem is, in the past 30 years our ideas of “nation building” usually meant propping up regimes favorable to US, not to the people in those nations.


Were there not strings attached to the Marshall Plan?

The popular opinion in France is that there were: mostly the requirement to import American cultural commodities like movies and music.

I’ve watched too many French made-for-tv movies about French kids in the fifties wanting rock and roll and western t-shirts and parents yelling at them not to hang with the Americans because the Americans wanted to overthrow the country, one way or another.

Ok, so we didn’t, but…the string about importation of American cinema (I think) has been demonstrated.

Fine idea. But, after Afghanistan, there are several dozen additional countries in desperate need of costly nation building and, though Americans will feed the war machine, we also have a record of vehemently protesting anything more than token non-military foreign aid. And perhaps for good reason. The recent historical experience is replete with stories of foreign aid either being siphoned off by a corrupt political elite or squandered on technologically inappropriate capital works (“trophy”) projects.

We cannot impose social change by bayonette and we can reasonably expect the Taliban would resist our modernization efforts at every opportunity as they would be destabilyzing. I also have no doubt that radical Muslims throughout the Arab world would regard our efforts as evil incarnate. The masses are whipped into anti-American hysteria by leaders whose goal is to drive us out of the Persian Gulf and use oil as a weapon.

But can’t we show the mases that prosperity and democracy can exist with an Islamic framework? The people of the Middle East who howl for American blood have been lied to by their kleptocratic leaders and have been victimized by dictatorships. Wouldn’t an Iraqi or an Afghan prefer peace, material comfort, and a voice in their own destinies to what they have now, even if it means peace with Israel and the US?

We didn’t tell them they had to worship Jerry Lewis.

The initial Marshall Plan, directed at the needs of Greece and Turkey, was totally without strings (except for the tacit assumption that our rescuing the economy and government of Greece carried with it our encouragement that the Greek government would continue to subdue the E.A.F. guerrilla forces attempting to install a Communist “people’s republic” (a la Poland, Hungary, Romania, etc.). There may or may not have been strings on aid extended to the rest of Europe as the Marshall Plan continued through Point Four and other programs of that sort; I’m not sufficiently familiar with the later history of the effort.

However, there is a strong distinction to be drawn here between three or four things:
[li]Foreign aid offered by the U.S. with or without overt conditions – if we make an offer of help to X-land, and openly condition it on something we would like X-land to do, then they’re free to take the aid and comply with the condition, or not. I’m not altogether thrilled with the idea of conditioning our help, but neither do I feel that we are in the wrong in offering conditioned help.[/li][li]The attraction of U.S. cultural trends to people in other nations, particularly the youth, and the inclination of those interested in preserving the “purity” of French, Afghan, Bulgarian, Bhutanese, etc. culture to condemn the “Americanization” of those nations. My response would be, “Sorry, but we’re not responsible for their preferring our ways to yours – make yours more attractive to them.” (At the same time, I applaud the efforts to keep Welsh alive, preserve old Norwegian folkways, etc.)[/li][li]The tendency of U.S.-dominated multinational corporations to make quick bucks out of the tendency noted in the preceding bullet, often with the idea that their Constitutional right to do business is something the U.S. government is legally required to enforce worldwide, despite their running roughshod over the national sensibilities of the countries they trade in.[/li][li]The “Ugly American” syndrome – where Americans overseas exude the same attitude we despised in pre-WWII British to assume that our cultural traits are exactly how everybody else ought to do things, and that, e.g., the requirement in old Japanese etiquette that shoes, etc., be removed on entry of a home, is just “their ignorance of how people ought to behave” (which is of course the proper cultural behavior in Topeka, Kansas :rolleyes: )[/li]
As I hope I’ve made clear, these are four different things, often confuted into one, regarding which I have quite disparate opinions.

About the French, I did a quick check on the internet, since this has been nagging in my head since the early 90s and since many French really do work under the assumption that the Americans ruined their society with Coca-cola and consumerism…

The most apparent ‘strings’ of the Marshall Plan particular to France had to do with the requirement to transport goods on American ships, not re-export American goods to Eastern Europe, and no commerce with Russia without prior American consent.

About the cinema, it’s really an ideological debate more than something that would be easy to establish factually (et d’ailleurs tres branche’ actuellement).

According to the center right journal Le Monde,, it comes down to this:

–prior to WWII there was a restriction on importation of American movies into France

–May 1946, in the climate of the eventual Marshall Plan, France agrees to the following terms in the Blum-Byrnes Agreement

  1. No limits on importation of American movies and (I think) no tarriffs

  2. Requirement that equivalent of 4 weeks out of every trimester, French national cinemas show French movies alone (this is later upped to 5 weeks).

So if you look at the facts, it sounds like the culture strings were in place to favor the preservation of French culture. The French look at it as if the Americans bullied them into lifting the quota so that we could flood the market with our product.

The French intellectual big gun writing on this is Francois BEDARIDA and there is also Stanley HOFFMAN and Irwin WALL (whom I was remembering from back in the early 90s).

I suppose that the French predilection for Jerry Lewis is the best revenge :smiley:

About COKE, they were mad at us for tempting them with expensive brown bubbles when they were strapped for cash. Then, look what DIOR did to skirts at the same time…

Additional random trivia: the most popular French-made sweet fizzy water of the fifties was a product called PSCHITT!(it’s the sound of the CO2 being released) Consider the viability of such a brandname in the U.S.