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Review: Can America Nation-Build?

Reviewed Works: Logics of Hierarchy: The Organization of Empires, States, and Military Occupation by Alexander Cooley; America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq by James Dobbins, John G. McGinn, Keith Crane, Seth G. Jones, Rollie Lal, Andrew Rathmell, Rachel Swanger, Anga Timilsina; What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation-Building by Noah Feldman; Nation-Building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq by Francis Fukuyama; Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism by Greg Grandin
Review by: Jason Brownlee
World Politics
Vol. 59, No. 2 (Jan., 2007), pp. 314-340
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40060190
Page Count: 27
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Can America Nation-Build?
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Abstract

Post-9/11 security concerns and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have renewed scholarly interest in nation-building as a form of externally fostered democratization. The selected works assess Iraq and its precursors, seeking general lessons for establishing new democracies. They principally conclude that successful nation-building depends on sustained commitments of time, materiel, and manpower. Although this thesis improves upon earlier studies of democracy promotion, which often treated intentions as determinative, it does not fully reckon with the effect of antecedent conditions on external intervention. As this review addresses, American efforts at nation-building have historically been enabled or constrained by local political institutions. Rather than autonomously reengineering the target society, nation-builders have buttressed bureaucracies and parliaments where they were already available (Germany, Japan) and foundered in countries that lacked such institutions (Somalia, Haiti). In sum, nation-building has been most effective when pursued least ambitiously, amid functioning states with prior experience in constitutional government.

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