07 October 2011

10th Anniversary of Afghanistan Invasion

It’s worth asking about the difference between nation-building and state-building.

10th anniversary of invasion of Afghanistan and still we confuse war and occupation, nation-building and setting up a government.

State is the government – the bureaucracy, administration, laws, standing army …
Nation is the sense of shared identity that makes a people feel more like Americans than Virginians or more like Italians than Venetians. That’s a tougher thing to create. (It wasn’t until AFTER the Gettysburg Address that we got the term “the United States is” rather than the “the United States are.”)

It seems like there are at least two errors we’re making in Afghanistan.
1.       We keep talking about a war. It’s not a war. The war quickly ended. Now it’s an occupation.
2.       We keep talking about nation-building when really all we’re doing is state building. Their sense of self is tribal, not national.

We never did nation-building in the Marshall Plan. Japan and Germany were very much nations before WWII. All we did was some economic development and some state-building. That’s a terribly impressive, but much easier, task. Or, put differently, rebuilding a government and economy within years after a war is a huge but doable task. By contrast, there is no evidence that outside forces can build a nation in just a decade or two - or even at all. History suggests that this is a task that has to be done organically and over a generation or two or three.  

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