Small Wars Journal

Comparisons in Nation Building

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Comparisons in Nation Building:

Korea & Iraq

by Jonathan Stafford

Download the Full Article: Comparisons in Nation Building

As the American experiment in nation building winds down in Iraq, a perception is slowly being created that combat operations in Iraq are largely over and that the United States is on its way from largely disengaging from Iraq. As the lull in violence in Iraq continues an increasing number of American leaders and opinion makers from both sides of the political debate on Iraq are declaring that the country is stabilizing and becoming a democratic state. For example US President Barack Obama has said:

"Every mission that's been assigned, from getting rid of Saddam to reducing violence to stabilizing the country to facilitating elections, you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement."

Some media pundits have even declared Iraq a "victory" and speculate that US military operations in the country are largely over . Each side of the political debate has their own reasons for declaring stabilization and victory in Iraq. Despite the political calculations behind these views, should these claims of stabilization and "victory" in Iraq be heeded?

The best way to determine if Iraq is on a glide path to becoming a US allied democratic state or the biggest foreign policy blunder in US history is by comparing the country to other historical nation building efforts the United States has conducted in recent history. Often times the war in Iraq is compared to America's failed effort in nation building in Vietnam. However, many forget that America's efforts in nation building amidst an ambiguous and unpopular war actually pre-dates the Vietnam Conflict. America's first nation building effort amidst an unpopular war was not in Vietnam, but rather in Korea.

Download the Full Article: Comparisons in Nation Building

Major Jonathan Stafford is currently serving as a Test Officer for the Operational Test Command. He is a 2000 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and was commissioned into the Air Defense Artillery. He has served in various command and leadership positions in the continental United States, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Australia.

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tequila (not verified)

Tue, 09/14/2010 - 10:11am

I think a direct historical comparison is a bit off to say the least. The Japan-Korea relationship has some parallels to Iran-Iraq, but for U.S. policy it fails in that the U.S.-Japan relationship cannot be compared at all to the U.S.-Iranian relationship. The U.S. was happy to encourage better relations between two Cold War Asian allies - but to welcome Iranian influence in Iraq would be to welcome the influence of a declared enemy of the U.S. in a supposed U.S. ally! A better analogy would be if Maoist China was investing in Cold War South Korea - would this have been a good deal for the U.S.?

Also, given the bloodstained history of South Korea under military rule, perhaps we should not be so quick to recommend such a path for Iraq, even in the face of civilian political dysfunction. The record of military governments worldwide is not particularly good.

I agree with the larger thesis, which appears to be that the U.S. should remain involved and interested in the future direction of Iraq, but such direct historical parallels are not very good arguments for such.