This week the editors cover Henry Nau’s article about nation-building, 75-year-old reports from occupied Germany by Reinhold Neibuhr and John Baillie, a podcast with Rebeccah Heinrichs, and an event with Paul D. Miller and Jon Askonas.
Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with another episode of Marksism, with fellow editors and fellow Mark(c)s, Marc LiVecche and Mark Melton. We’re reviewing several pieces from Providence this week, starting out with an article by Henry Nau, the esteemed historian and scholar from George Washington University, who makes a sort of defense of nation building; a piece from Reinhold Niebuhr from 75 years ago in which he and a colleague are visiting the ruins of post-war Germany, with possible lessons for us today; and then finally an interview that Mark Melton conducted with Rebecca Heinrichs about Afghanistan.
But first Henry Nau, who wrote a book on conservative internationalism some years ago, and writes, I think, a sensible and temperate piece amid all of the intense conversation about Afghanistan, arguing that sometimes America does need to nation build, and that the nature of regimes that oppose us in fact does matter and does factor in to the type and the extent of the dangers they pose to us. And he argues that there have to be constant recalibrations in terms of where America exerts its force. Twenty years ago, extremist Islam was perceived, understandably, as the major threat to America. Today it’s China and Russia, radical Islam much less so. He does argue for the use of American force in more central areas connected to free nations, and more reluctance to use force in more peripheral nations. He argues that places such as Vietnam and Afghanistan were always by definition peripheral: meriting attention, but perhaps not the full extent of what America eventually plowed into each. Marc LiVecche, your thoughts on Henry Nau:
LiVecche: Yeah, that was a thorough summary that sort of sums up the case, I think, but I think you’re right. I think it’s in the typical, sort of, Nau-ian fashion. It’s sober, it’s temperate, and amidst so much hysteria that’s something that’s helpful. I think he highlights some of the stuff that we’ve been highlighting over the last several weeks, one of which is that nation building comes in different kinds. Some of it is going to be a full blown sort of reconstruction, as might have happened under the Marshall Plan. That sort of thing where you know that there is a government in place, or at least that there’s something to build upon, out of which you can get a stable government. And then there are other places where those types of things are, you know, at least temporarily or for the foreseeable future, impossible. And Afghanistan has got to be one of those places. To what degree Afghanistan has ever been amenable to a centralized government seems to be very much up in the air, but heavily tilted toward the notion that it never has been particularly centralized or particularly open to centralization. So you do the kind of, as Nau says, incremental, very modest nation building that allows you to have a reasonably more open and a reasonably more stable regime than when you had when you first had to intervene in it, for whatever reason you had to intervene. So he looks back and suggests that as soon as we tossed out the Taliban, in 2002 or 2003, we already back then should have retracted and left some kind of a modest presence, maybe only an intelligence presence, and assisted militarily wherever we needed. And so there is still a sense, he talks about ratcheting up the system of nation building, but it’s not the full blown, aspirational kind of things that we’re going to make a democracy out of a nation that’s probably not amenable to anything that currently resembles a democracy. He recognizes that it’s a practical endeavor, not an ideological one as we’ve said in our early statement on Christianity and Foreign Policy. There is an outer perimeter to U.S. security and that’s within our interests to maintain that perimeter. So, even when we find it in peripheral states like Afghanistan or Vietnam, there’s still a job that can be done to make sure that the weeds that are growing in our neighbor’s garden don’t blow into our own, and that’s important. At the same time, we can’t take our eye off the larger ball, which now has become Russia again and China for sure. So I think, as you said, it’s a separate piece but it pairs well with a lot of what I think we’ve already written. It’d be interesting to know the degree to which Henry Nau and Paul Miller would agree on whether or not nation building was ever really done in Afghanistan. Miller’s basic thesis is that it wasn’t really done, except for a narrow window. Nau might agree with that, but he would just say the other things we did is a kind of “nation building lite,” and that’s the kind of stuff we should have been doing from the beginning. But that’d be an interesting question.
Tooley: Speaking of nation building, Reinhold Niebhur’s visit to Germany in 1946 with a Scottish colleague, visiting it seems chiefly with German Protestant church leaders, some living under Soviet occupation, some under the British and American. Obviously it was a very dire situation in 1946. Starvation hovered as a threat for millions; millions of Germans barely had clothing to wear. And yet the churches seem to have been quite vital and even optimistic in their outlook. Those who are living under Soviet occupation seem to be putting a rather positive spin on the circumstances with which they were dealing. But it reminds us that in 1946 it was far from a foregone conclusion that Germany, or at least West Germany, would survive and endure as a democracy, or that the US would be able to nation build in that nation so successfully. Mark Melton, your thoughts:
Melton: Yeah, so this is always an interesting year, 1946, because most Americans when they study this history, they go from the surrender of imperial Japan to the Berlin airlift. Which, there’s actually a lot of things going on during that time period. And that’s where John Bailey and Reinhold Niebhur go to Germany. And this is part of a series of articles that Christianity and Crisis ran in the fall of 1946. Next week, I plan on posting one of a couple of articles from China, which is very interesting. But specifically in Germany, like you said, there’s the beginnings of nation building, so to speak. And one of my problems with the term nation building is that the word nation has many different meanings, and so it could just mean the building of infrastructure, but you know there’s a lot of things going on here. Niehbur talks about occupation, he and Bailey are both a little critical of the American occupation. I almost feel like it’s being critical of America for being for the sake of being critical of America. For instance, they talked to one woman in Berlin who said that a quarter of the people in hospitals were Germans who had been hit by Americans driving around recklessly around Berlin. I’m sure that’s probably a rumor that was going around. I don’t know where the historical evidence for that would be, but I’m a little doubtful that that is true. But again, you know, you see a little bit of this criticism of America. People in the East seem to think that things in the Russian occupied, or excuse me, people in the West tend to think that the people in the Russian occupied area are better. I think they did travel separately, but Bailey went around to different conferences and he wrote a lot actually about their diet. And if you read many of the other Christianity and Crisis articles, Niehbur is talking about the need to supply food to these people. And so nation building could just be a matter of feeding these people you know. So, it’s a very interesting look and it’s not something I think we get a lot of. We’re not going to get this type of in depth detail from our normal history books and so that’s why I thought it was interesting to share.
Tooley: Marc LiVecche, I didn’t prepare you for this question, but we hosted a conversation on Afghanistan this week, we meaning Providence and IRD, between two very different perspectives, both contributors to Providence. Paul Miller, who’s more internationalist and vigorously defended an ongoing U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and then Jon Askonas, a decidedly not interventionist — some would call him more neo-isolationist, but I think he would dispute that label — but he has long opposed the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Neither one really spoke specifically theologically, but if you had to choose, Marc LiVecche, who was the more Christian realist?
LiVecche: Oh! Yeah I’d parse it out probably in various bits, but just to honor the question as asked, I think Paul Miller had the better, more thorough, more nuanced arguments. Jon had some great points about, expressing a doubt again about the ability of the Afghans to ever unify into anything resembling a centralized government. I don’t think that that would end the question, you know, what can you do to create some more stability. The question that remained unasked, that I asked them at our following dinner, was simply the one group of people that was left out of that conversation, by and large, were the Afghan people themselves. And so I think as a realist position the case is relatively clear, although I think Paul Miller would still have points to be made about the outer perimeter of security, American credibility to a degree — though I think Jon’s point that American credibility can be quickly remedied through relatively little effort was probably true. But the piece that needs to be talked about is the Afghan people, and what we owe them. And the question of whether or not, buried within our national interests is something like the acquisition and the maintenance of credible virtue. I think when America is seen and understood as a force for good in the world, that rebounds to our own security in a variety of different ways, among which it makes our power sufferable to those who are beneath it. They can trust us, and I think that kind of reputation is a kind of national interest. It doesn’t add treasure to our pockets or territory to our borders, but it adds to the acquisition and maintenance of virtue. And I think that is not just a Christian good, that is a national good. And I think we have obligations to the Afghan people. Maybe we didn’t have them in 2002, but it’s, you know, it’s kind of like that broken bird you find when you walk out of your door, all of a sudden. You’ve been confronted with an obligation and you’ve got to take care of it, whether you like it or not. And I think there’s something to be said about continuing to do what is right by them. Miller’s position isn’t a massive increase of 100,000 troops and an ongoing presence in that sense. It’s modest, it’s modest in purpose and in scope, and so I think he had a better grasp of the kinds of obligations that I think America should continue to maintain without, you know dropping the ball on China everything else.
Tooley: And then finally, Mark Melton, just a few words from you on your interview with Rebecca Heinrichs on topic A, Afghanistan.
Melton: Right, so Heinrichs and I spoke this week in a podcast. And so she makes basically a realist argument in favor of staying in Afghanistan and keeping, especially Bagram Air Base, which would have been on the border of China, that could have been an advantage to our great power competition with China. And so we kind of talked about some of that. She also analyzes some of the possible benefits to our competition with China by our withdrawal, but she’s hopeful that some of these arguments turn out correct, but is a little cautious. And so we discuss that, and by the end of day she would have supported keeping Bagram Air Base there and that we could have kept troops there, kept material there, and as needed kind of like Nau was mentioning the ability to go in and out, we would have retained that ability. But basically, you keep materials there, and you fall on those materials, like you fly in troops and they fall on the material, so to speak, and pick up and do operations there as needed. But, anyway, that’s kind of the gist of some of her argument there.
Tooley: Gentlemen, thank you for another stimulating conversation, and this latest episode of Marksism. Until next week, bye-bye.