Nation building

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Sen. Joe Biden advocating for boots on the ground and nation building at the Council on Foreign Relations, October 22, 2001.

Nation building is "the idea of invading and occupying a land afflicted by dictatorship or civil war and turning it into a democracy."[1]

Nation building is a controversial diplomatic and military initiative favored by neoconservatives, but generally opposed by conservatives. American government officials and others have expressed different opinions about its wisdom and practicality, particularly in regards to post-war Iraq.

Views of President Bush

According to the Boston Globe, George W. Bush (then governor of Texas) said the following on Oct. 11, 2000:

  • I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building.
  • I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have a kind of nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not.[2]

Views of General Caldwell

The 2008 Army Field Manual on Operations was released in March 2008 by Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

  • it makes the "stability of a nation" just as vital to success as offensive or defensive combat operations.[3]
  • the manual's third directive, titled "stability operations," focuses on nation-building.

Views of General Vallely

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely said in 2008 that efforts to rebuild in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a serious financial strain on an Army whose job is to "win war" not "build nations."[3]

Views of Sen. Joe Biden

Three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, on October 3, 2001, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware proposed on the Senate floor a billion dollars in aid to a yet-to-be-formed Afghan interim government. The amount was almost twice as much as U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan proposed,[4] and more than triple what the Bush administration asked for.[5] Sen. Biden, who spoke for the Democrats in Congress, wanted more than just removal of the Taliban and degrading al Qaeda. Biden wanted nation building. Biden wanted to flood the new government with cash, which ultimately corrupted the new Karzai regime, and created an anti-Western, anti-corruption, pro-Taliban resurgence and backlash.[6]

A conservative view

Political scientist James L. Payne wrote:

  • The nation-building idea has a critical, generally overlooked, gap: who knows how to do it? Pundits and presidents talk about nation building as if it were a settled technology, like building bridges or removing gall bladders.
  • Nation building by military force is not a coherent, defensible policy. It is based on no theory, it has no proven technique or methodology, and there are no experts who know how to do it.[7]


  1. James L. Payne The American Conservative - October 24, 2005
  3. 3.0 3.1
  4. Sen. Biden: "U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan has issued an appeal for $584 million to meet the needs of the Afghan refugees and displaced people, within Afghanistan and in neighboring countries. This is the amount deemed necessary to stave off disaster for the winter, which will start in Afghanistan in just a few weeks. We must back up our rhetoric with action, with something big and bold and meaningful. We can offer to foot the entire bill for keeping the Afghan people safely fed, clothed, and sheltered this winter, and that should be the beginning....We can kick the effort off in a way that would silence our critics in the rest of the world: a check for $1 billion, and a promise for more to come as long as the rest of the world joins us. This initial amount would be more than enough to meet all the refugees’ short-term needs, and would be a credible downpayment for the long-term effort. Eventually the world community will have to pony up more billions, but there is no avoiding that now, not if we expect our words ever to carry any weight.
    If anyone thinks this amount of money is too high, let me note one stark, simple and very sad statistic. The damage inflicted by the September 11 attack in economic terms alone was a minimum of several hundred billion dollars and a maximum of over $1 trillion. The cost in human life, of course, as the Presiding Officer knows, is far beyond any calculation." CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—SENATE—Wednesday, October 3, 2001, Pg. 18464.
  5. The Original Sin of the War in Afghanistan, By Jonah Blank, The Atlantic, APRIL 20, 2021.

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