There is a great diary here that talks about America's role as "nation builder" over the past decade. Liberals, leftists, and many on this site have considered nation building to have been a doomed plan from the outset, and I have always agreed, but not for the reason many people think. I'm left libertarian, so the libertarian (the old meaning of the world, not the Ayn Rand BS) part of me knows that unless people WANT to change their country, no amount of money, cajoling, or propaganda can change that. People have to see how things work in their own best interest before moving forward. Many of the greatest mass delusions in history, including Nazi Germany, were actually what many of the people in those countries wanted.
Nation building is a sign we didn't really learn all that much from World War II, mainly because it's built off the WW II mindset. We long for what we believed was the moral clarity of that time. It was the good guys vs. the bad guys, so there was no room for naysayers to split hairs. There was no need for nuance. We treated Afghanistan, the Pashtuns, the Taliban, and the people in the northwestern region of Pakistan, and Pakistan itself, as if they were a unified, modern nation state. They're not. We wanted to have a Marshall Plan for them, to "update" their country into the liberal democracy (you know, the one we helped destroy) and thought that it would be like occupying Japan or Germany. We actually acted like the war on terror was coming out of a country that needed to be toppled and defeated, and that somehow, we could fight terrorism by occupying Afghanistan. We would "make inroads" with the locals, drink tea with them, develop commerce ties, gain their favor by providing them food and work through public works projects (like what we do with the Saudis), and teach the savages about the wonders of American democracy handed to us by Jesus and the constitution.
Americans are not equipped for this. Culturally speaking we're not. I'm sorry, I know I'll get labeled as a terrorist sympathizer who hates America, but I know my people; we have some very strong points and some huge weaknesses. We need to remove the log from our own eye and call it a day. We are isolationist, capitalist, faith-ist (not religious necessarily), populist farmers in a country whose heart beats libertarian. We have a rich country, and even though income inequality threatens that, many poor Americans are heads and tails above those living in absolute desperate poverty elsewhere in the world. We don't react well when attacked. We think that anyone who threatens paradise needs to be destroyed. We hate moral ambiguity. We believe in holding out the "bayonet and the dove" and actually don't see the inherent contradiction.
What do we have to show for our nation building? We tried to create children's programming to unite the nation, but forgot that most Pashtuns don't have access to electricity, let alone televisions. We updated our rules of war to be as aggressive as possible, thinking stunning force will subjugate our enemies. We thought we lost Vietnam because we weren't brutal enough, and not because we didn't understand the conflict well enough. Defense secretary McNamara noted this gross failing in hsi memoirs before he passed. Instead, we've alienated vast swathes of the country. The Afghans have seen many conquerors come and go. It's why they live in isolated villages with a network of chieftains. The Russians will come, blow up a cow or two, and then leave. Others will come through as well, with their dreams and ambitions for power, and they'll leave. Why bother being anything other than neutral? After all, life expectancy is only around 35 years old. There's little food, and life is fleeting. There was a liberal democracy that was progressive and would've granted women's rights, but our foreign policy was based on destroying communism, and if that meant killing thousands or arming religious fanatics, then so be it.
I cannot tell you how many military blogs I've read that are borderline racist or where the writer has an utter disregard for the cultures they are trying to transform. Please don't apologize for them. You cannot rebuild a nation in your own image if you hate the people you're trying to work with. They don't treat their women the same, their religion is vastly different, and they seem "ungrateful" because they put the lives on their neighbors and their families above you. I understand how awful the Taliban is. But from there perspective, when you gun down their children, how could they see you as any different? What is wrong with your rules of engagement when you go in guns blazing before checking to see if you're firing on insurgents or children? That works in total war, but you cannot hold the bayonet and the dove in the same hand.
We were too drunk with our fables of American democracy. We didn't take time first to understand the Pashtuns, to become experts in the region, and to take the best course of action from there. We needed to act directly and calmly. Get Bin Laden, then figure out what to do from there. We think that absolute force solves problems. Someone hits you, you hit them back harder, that way they won't come at you again. That's the way we think. Black and White. With us or against us. Pacifist or War Monger. No further. Anyone who proposes anything else is thought of as a total pacifist and therefore would undermine the nation. We do not think in a nuanced way, separating lethal force from other kinds of force that could get our aims without having to terrorize the northwest region of Pakistan with drones, thinking those people will be subjugated.
We've wasted millions. Afghan contractors have taken U.S. money to build roads and absconded with it to the Netherlands. The Afghan army is not a cohesive unit, and if there aren't Taliban leaning Pashtuns in the echelons of command, then the Taliban is incompetent. Once we leave many of the Pashtuns that have enjoyed Kabul and its safety will leave for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Britain, or Germany. The Taliban will have to fight though, as many Pashtuns don't want them around any more, so we're most likely looking at a civil war. However, as we've seen in certain regions, some people would want to fight the Taliban entirely by themselves.
America is a multicultural, multilingual country from the outset that was once welcoming. However instead of being the country that could be humanity in its purest form, our history is marred with racism, hatred, and killing. We have Americans screaming about killing Mexicans at the border at town hall meetings. We believe all crimes are punishable by death. If the police beat you and killed you, you must have deserved it. It's shameful! We've had Mexican and Latino Americans as citizens in our country for centuries! We have birthright citizenship for a reason! Spanish is just one of the major languages in our tapestry. Our economy booms and grows because we get the best and the brightest from around the world. Look at our PhD departments in science and tell me we are not taking in the best the world has to offer. Instead, we ignore what we are. We look down on other countries. We don't speak different languages. We're actually bad at it. When we don't understand something, we fall back on our superiority. We see other cultures as caricatures and treat them accordingly. We don't recognize our government is tailor made for us and that not everyone wants democracy or work best under it.
America HAS changed the world for the better when we look at our libertarian, lead-by example laissez faire roots. Look at the cold war and the fall of the Soviet Union. We toppled the giant with Michael Jackson and soap operas showing beautiful women on the California coast. We fueled the peaceful Egyptian revolution with Martin Luther King Jr. translated into Arabic. We showed people being positive and loving life, materially and spiritually, was what they really wanted. People love our idea of drive thrus, they drink our drinks, and they appreciate the American way of life, of having self dignity and being able to work your way up. Our golden age was our values made manifest. We can return to that, but we must first rid ourselves of what no longer works and expunge it from our psyche.
We can then heal, and move on.