Andrya Hill/U.S. Army

World News


The Continuation of Unnecessary American Nation-Building

A common occurrence within the discipline of international relations is various schools of thought being subjected to criticism. A school of thought that has faced a considerable amount of scrutiny in recent years is realism. One of the reasons why realists have been inundated with criticism is because they place so much emphasis on the state. This preoccupation with the state is thought to be unnecessary in the eyes of realism’s detractors since this actor is not as influential as it used to be.

This decline in influence has largely surfaced because a number of other actors are now having an impact on events in the international community. They range from non-governmental organizations to multinational corporations. Something, which occasionally gets overlooked, is how there is also a major problem with the way that realists analyze the behavior of states. Most realists are under the impression that the conduct of a state is solely determined by the external behavior of other states within the international system. What they fail to recognize is the fact that events inside other nations are impacting state behavior as well.

Since the end of the Cold War, several military operations have been conducted in nations where weapons of mass destruction were being produced or operatives were being trained for terrorist attacks. The majority of these operations have been carried out by the United States. Certain American missions have entailed toppling regimes and replacing them with democracies that were not expected to engage in internal misconduct.

At times, these nation-building missions have been necessary since the regime in power has actually been participating in internal activities, which directly threatened the security of the United States. However, there have also been times when nation-building was not imperative since activities like the construction of weapons of mass destruction were not transpiring.

Perhaps the best illustration of this point is the operation in Iraq. In 2003, the members of the George W. Bush administration insisted that it was necessary to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government because it was in the process of developing weapons of mass destruction.

As a new government was being created in Iraq, it was determined that the deposed regime had not been producing weapons of mass destruction after all. Since this claim by the Bush administration turned out to be untrue, various politicians began to criticize the nation-building mission in Iraq. The most important in relation to this discussion was Barack Obama.

While Obama was running for president in 2008, he consistently said that the United States had to be more selective when it came to the utilization of military force. This rhetoric led the American electorate to believe that he would refrain from becoming involved in other unnecessary nation-building initiatives if he became president. Unfortunately, Obama has broken this campaign promise during his presidency. It will be possible to substantiate this point by comparing the current mission in Libya with the aforementioned operation in Iraq.

American Involvement in Libya and Iraq

When the operation in Libya commenced, an oppressive regime was attempting to defeat an insurgency that had been organized by a group of citizens who did not have much military training and equipment. In public, President Obama made it seem as if the US was only intervening in this conflict “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” within Libya (United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973).

Although Obama claimed that the protection of innocent civilians was the only reason for embarking on this campaign, there were various indications that he was actually interested in helping the aforementioned insurgents bring down Moammar Gadhafi’s government. One, which the press devoted a lot of attention to, was his secret order “authorizing the CIA to provide arms and other support” to the rebels. If this uprising in Libya had surfaced before 2003, it would have been understandable for an American president to authorize this covert assistance. After all, at this juncture, an activity was happening within Libya that was threatening the United States. This, of course, was the construction of weapons of mass destruction by the members of Gadhafi’s regime.

However, in 2011, assistance could not be considered a necessity since weapons of mass destruction were no longer being developed by the Gadhafi regime. In fact, by this point, individuals inside the government were in the process of overseeing internal activities that were making it easier for officials in Washington to protect American citizens. It seems appropriate to arrive at this conclusion since multiple government documents, which were uncovered during the siege of Tripoli during the summer of 2011, revealed that Libyan personnel had been detaining terror suspects for the United States for an extended period of time.

Now that it has been demonstrated that the nation-building mission in Libya was unnecessary like the one in Iraq, we can turn our attention to another important objective, which is ascertaining how Bush and Obama developed a willingness to embark on these missions. During the 2000 Presidential Election, the former could frequently be seen scrutinizing American nation-building missions that he believed were unnecessary. Like his successor in 2008, Bush vowed to avert similar missions if he became President.

In order to understand why Bush broke this promise, it is imperative to examine the members of his administration. A lot of advisors from Bush’s first term were neoconservatives. For many years, the members of this school of thought had promoted using military force to depose despots in other nations. They were especially eager to see the downfall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It has long been held that the neoconservatives, who had assumed positions in the executive branch, persuaded Bush to overthrow Hussein in 2003.

President Obama’s administration was not dominated by one group of thinkers when the decision was made to intervene inside Libya. Instead, there appeared to be two groups that were involved in the policymaking process. The first was led by the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. This is probably not the contingent that convinced Obama to proceed with the Libyan mission. Such an inference can be made since various members of this group exhibited some skepticism about the operation once it was in progress. On occasion, time was even used to touch upon an earlier point from this section, which was how the Libyan regime did not pose a direct threat to the United States. Something that can demonstrate how this point was being focused on is Gates’ appearance on a television program in March 2011.

As he was being interviewed about the Libyan venture on ABC News “This Week” Gates said “it was not a vital national interest to the United States.” Gates’ reluctance to embrace the Libyan mission should not come as much of a surprise. After all, he has been linked to the realist school of thought for many years.

As we saw in the beginning of this article, the followers of this theory tend to be concerned about a regime’s misconduct when it transpires on the international level as opposed to the domestic level. The second major group in the Obama administration included figures who concentrated more on the internal misconduct of different regimes. What needs to be emphasized about these individuals is the fact that they were not preoccupied with the misconduct threatening the United States. In other words, their main concern was not the construction of weapons of mass destruction or the training of terrorist operatives. Instead, it was the mistreatment of civilians by security personnel.

This emphasis on human rights violations can be noticed if a book entitled A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is taken into consideration. Within this publication, Samantha Power, a Special Assistant to President Obama when the Libyan intervention commenced, focuses on the American responses to different genocides that have transpired in the world. She mentions how it was unfortunate that the United States did not intervene in certain countries where genocides were in progress. According to her, this would have prevented a considerable amount of civilian deaths. The information towards the end of the preceding paragraph is quite significant.

After all, it reveals how there were individuals in the second group who were receptive to intervening in other nations when oppression was prevalent. Since this is true, it is safe to say that this contingent probably persuaded President Obama to embark on the Libyan campaign. A certain feature of this campaign allows the objective observer to draw another conclusion about this group of advisors.

Earlier in this article, it was noted how the individuals who were lobbying for the mission within Iraq were connected to the neoconservative school of thought. It is quite clear that this group in the Obama administration did not consist of neoconservatives since the Libyan operation was executed with assistance from international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Over the years, neoconservatives have frequently criticized this type of operation. They have insisted that it is better to intervene in other countries unilaterally like the Bush administration did in Iraq. The major school of thought, which has promoted cooperative ventures like the one in Libya, is liberalism. Consequently, it seems appropriate to identify the members of Obama’s interventionist contingent as liberals.

Although the Libyan mission was approached in a multilateral fashion, the Obama administration still encountered certain problems that the Bush administration was forced to deal with in Iraq. Among them was the emergence of a resistance movement after Gadhafi’s downfall. Not surprisingly, this movement was organized by a number of Gadhafi loyalists who objected to the formation of a new government. The rebels, who orchestrated Gadhafi’s overthrow, attempted to eliminate this movement by engaging Gadhafi supporters in gun battles in locations such as Sirte and Bani Walid.

These battles came to an end in October 2011 when the majority of the loyalists elected to relinquish their weapons upon hearing about Gadhafi’s death. The resistance movement, which commenced in Iraq shortly after Hussein’s removal from power, was also organized by proponents of the ancien regime, but the effort to defeat them was not led by indigenous elements like the one in Libya. Rather, it was controlled by the American troops who participated in the invasion that resulted in Hussein’s downfall. These soldiers encountered some adversity during the early stages of their campaign. However, they persevered and eventually defeated the Hussein loyalists.

Libya might experience other conflicts in the future since it is extremely diverse. This diversity cannot be attributed to the presence of several religious sects because approximately ninety-seven percent of the population belongs to the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith. Most citizens are a part of the same religious sect, but they do not belong to the same ethnic group since there are numerous ethnic groups within this country. Ethnic conflicts have been known to surface in war torn nations, which lack central governance and competent security personnel.

One of the better illustrations of this point is the situation in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Throughout much of this decade, a strong government and security apparatus were not present in this state. If they were prevalent, it might have been possible to prevent fighting between ethnic groups like the Pashtuns and Uzbeks.

At times, ethnic differences have not been responsible for conflicts in war torn states. If we turn our attention back to Iraq, it will be possible to substantiate this point. After the Hussein loyalists surrendered, violence continued due to the emergence of a conflict between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite populations. There was a general fear that this dispute between these religious sects would escalate into a full-scale civil war.

However, this turn of events never transpired for various reasons. Among them was the continued presence of American soldiers within Iraq. These troops proved to be invaluable because they eliminated the majority of the Sunni and Shiite figures who were behind the acts of violence. The information in the preceding paragraph indicates that foreign soldiers could handle any additional conflicts that might emerge in Libya.

However, it remains uncertain whether it would be worthwhile for the United States to send troops to this nation for an extended period of time. The first inclination of the reader would probably be to conclude that it would not be in America’s best interest to deploy troops. It is appropriate to make this statement because earlier in this article the Libyan campaign was labeled as unnecessary. One might recall how the campaign was provided with this label because alarming activities such as the construction of weapons of mass destruction were not transpiring on Libyan territory. From time to time, a threatening activity has occurred while unnecessary nation-building missions have been in progress.

Consequently, major powers have been provided with a legitimate reason to continue with these initiatives. The Iraqi operation can once again be utilized as a case in point. In the above paragraph, it was mentioned that a memorable conflict emerged in Iraq between the Sunni and Shiite populations after Hussein was overthrown. What was not alluded to in this discussion was the fact that al Qaeda was responsible for starting this clash. This transnational revolutionary organization managed to get these religious sects to quarrel by bombing a prestigious Shiite mosque in the city of Samarra.

When these al Qaeda members were not conducting terrorist attacks inside Iraq, they were planning attacks in other nations. Some of these external attacks turned out to be quite gruesome. The most gruesome one was a series of suicide bombings at Amman hotels. During this 2005 operation, fifty-six people died and another ninety-six were injured. This wave of external attacks eventually ended when American troops killed the key al Qaeda figures that were situated in Iraq.

If al Qaeda or another network begins to use Libyan territory to prepare for terrorist attacks in other countries, it would be appropriate to claim that American troops should be sent to this North African nation. However, it is important to point out the manner in which there would be multiple impediments preventing a troop deployment within the next year. A rather noticeable one would be President Obama. In the past, Obama has made it quite clear that he does not want “to deploy ground troops into Libya.”

One major factor has contributed to the formation of this position concerning the deployment of American soldiers, which is the upcoming Presidential election. If soldiers are sent to Libya and numerous casualties transpire, there would be an inevitable decline in the number of Obama supporters inside the United States. Naturally, this would decrease his chances of being re-elected in November 2012. It is fair to say that this unwillingness to deploy troops will begin to dissipate if Obama is re-elected. After all, previous presidents have become more receptive to sending troops to various locations once they have secured a second term in office. A recent commander-in-chief that experienced this alteration was Bill Clinton.

During his first term, he did not send troops to Rwanda while a brutal genocide was in progress. However, as his second term was coming to an end, it became quite clear that he had adopted a new perspective concerning the deployment of troops. The main development, which indicated that he had undergone this transformation, was his decision to send troops to Kosovo when another genocide was transpiring.


Barack Obama has made notable alterations on the domestic front during his first term. He has primarily done this by signing historic pieces of legislation like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. These domestic changes caught many by surprise because Obama did not spend most of his time promoting sweeping changes in the domestic realm prior to his arrival in the White House. Instead, he was more focused on making changes on the foreign level. Among them was not becoming involved in unnecessary nation-building missions like the one in Iraq. Sadly, Obama has not made this change while he has been in power.

One must reach this conclusion because the United States has embarked on another unnecessary nation-building initiative inside Libya. This mission should be referred to as unnecessary since a threatening activity like the development of weapons of mass destruction was not transpiring on Libyan soil when it commenced. Within the preceding section, it was brought to our attention that a major problem from the Iraqi venture has appeared while the Libyan mission has been in progress.

This, of course, was the creation of a resistance effort by the supporters of the deposed regime. In the future, additional conflicts and infiltration by Islamist organizations, two other problems during the Iraqi campaign, could also surface within Libya. If they do, it will become more difficult to complete the Libyan initiative in a satisfactory manner.