Joe Biden and Donald Trump don’t agree on much, but both have argued that America’s seemingly forever war in Afghanistan, the nation’s longest, must end. A majority of Republicans and Democrats also now apparently share their view that U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan and Afghans to their fate. As President Biden argued Thursday, in an impassioned speech defending his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan before Sept. 11, “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build.”
“Nation-building,” it seems, has become a dirty word in America’s foreign policy lexicon, a concept inexorably linked to Washington’s disastrous post-9/11 interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and, before that, its “humanitarian interventions” in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.
Conservatives long have been skeptical of such human rights interventions, and liberals of invasions aimed at strengthening American security. Yet the U.S. has done a lot of intervening since the end of the Cold War. As political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama noted in 2004 in The Atlantic magazine, Washington took on roughly one new nation-building commitment every other year between the end of the Cold War and 2005. While Fukuyama argued that America should learn how to improve its nation-building capabilities, since there almost surely would be a next time, its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to have ended the nation’s zeal (or tolerance) for such forays, at least temporarily.
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