The Central Proposition
By Mark Helprin, Senior Fellow, Claremont Institute
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
Writing in the Claremont Review of Books, Mark Helprin provides perhaps the most perceptive short analysis of why U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the entire Islamic world has failed after a decade of war. The U.S. failure, he explains, is based on the flawed "central proposition" of our foreign policy, namely that we can transform the Islamic World, remaking it in our own image.
First, President George W. Bush, after winning conventional military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, shifted the focus to nation-building and democratizing the region. This has cost much treasure and blood for little return. Then, President Obama compounded Bush's errors by not only continuing the flawed nation-building efforts, but also by further undermining U.S. interests in Egypt, Libya, and the Levant.
Helprin criticizes what he calls the "almost evangelical view of our role in history," which has frequently resulted in misguided policy. The idea that we can reshape other nations and cultures, he writes, "rests upon negligent and superficial interpretations of history."
He demolishes the false analogy, often used by proponents of nation-building, of our post-World War II efforts to rebuild Germany and Japan into functioning, stable democracies. Success in those two instances resulted from three special advantages: inflicting decisive defeat, disarmament, and political isolation of the enemy; destruction of the political ethos of the regimes; and the presence of overwhelming force during the rebuilding process. Those factors are all missing from our efforts in the Islamic world. Moreover, our policies in the region have ignored the culture of Islam, which is "the rock upon which our central proposition can only shatter."