Friday, September 16, 2005

Building Better Foundations

Fire of Liberty

Vance Serchuk of the American Enterprise Institute has a great article in the current issue of the Weekly Standard on how Afghanistan is progressing down the road from archaic chaos after years of war and rule by the Taliban to a more ordered democracy but still requires further nurturing from the US and its coalition partners. Now it's true that the US has helped the nation of Afghanistan hold elections, draw up a constitution and create of any effective military but in order for the Afghan people to enjoy the "blessings of liberty" and the continued development of strong and transparent institutions like the police, judiciary, parliament, as well as the civil service, the US and its coalition partners have got to get into the muck and mire beside the Afghan people who work in strengthening these institutions.

You could look at this process as being very similar to building a house. You can build the biggest and most glorious house in the world but if you don't put down a strong foundation under the house, it will eventually sag and collapse around you thus leaving you nothing. If we don't help the Afghan people strengthen the foundations of institutions that make a state functional then the house of democracy will fall in Afghanistan. I think Serchuk put it best when he wrote the following:
Absent this commitment, the democracy-building and institution-building projects in Afghanistan are likely to begin to diverge, following the example of other states in the developing world where democratic frameworks coexist uneasily with weak institutional cores. As political philosopher Stephen Holmes noted nearly a decade ago of post-Soviet Russia: "Russian elections do not produce anything even vaguely resembling accountable or responsive government largely because of institutional weakness. . . . Elections in Russia, in fact, do not create power. For the most part, they mirror the power that already exists."

Holmes's observation that "liberal values are threatened just as thoroughly by state incapacity as by despotic power" is the perfect epigram for present-day Afghanistan, where victory ultimately depends not just on the dispatch of bullets and ballots, but on the emergence of state institutions that are perceived as more or less legitimate, just, and honest.

This is achievable--the Afghan National Army stands as proof--but it is also difficult, costly, and time-consuming. Is it, then, quixotic to suggest the United States can help the people of Afghanistan in building not just a democratic government, but an effective, accountable one, too?
Let's just say that this is achievable if we just start sending in more civilian affair officers and promote the ideas that have been time tested in achieving a strong and functioning government. The same applies to our nation as well. Yes, it's true that the system of government and the institutions in the US are light years ahead of Afghanistan but we still need to ensure that the people running these institutions and future occupants of such posts are well versed in keeping the foundations of our government strong. One of the best steps that they can do is by a continual study of the US Constitution and The Federalist Papers.

By reviewing these two documents, the folks sitting in these various positions will have some of the best documents in their hands and heads to fall back on when they need help in shoring up the foundations of these important institutions that prevent man from returning to Hobbesian "State of Nature." If we as a people are not willing to refer to the guiding principles that the Founding Fathers laid out some 220 plus years ago then we will surely see the house that America built fall into disarray much like other nations who lost the ability to ensure that the foundations of good and preferably a more limited government continue to breath the fresh air of liberty. If we can achieve such goals here in the US, then we can pass our knowledge of developing lasting foundations onto the people of Afghanistan thus bringing them back into the fold of democratic nations after some 26 plus years of hell. So let's get rolling on this challenge, the quicker the better.

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