For two decades, America’s foreign policy was driven by nation-building abroad, and it failed.
“In the Cold War the United States aimed at containment; in the post-Cold War [the thrust] was transformation. The Cold War involved the defense of the West; post-Cold War foreign policy aspired to the political and ideological extension of the West.”
These missions, he notes, all aimed “to convert not simply individuals but entire countries,” and they had one other thing in common: “They all failed.”
Don’t get him wrong, Mandelbaum says. The U.S. beat back some very bad actors in Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and later in Libya. “The military missions that the United States undertook succeeded. It was the political missions that followed, the efforts to transform the politics of the places where American arms prevailed, that failed.”
Why? Because political success was never within our control. Such normative transformations can only come from within, from the will of local actors to change long-embedded habits, overcome longstanding enmities or restore long-lost political traditions..’