US approaches to statebuilding in the twenty-first century

Authored by: David A. Lake

Routledge Handbook of International Statebuilding

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  September  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415677028
eBook ISBN: 9780203370377
Adobe ISBN: 9781135939946


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Iraq is the crucible in which post-Cold War theories of statebuilding were destroyed and then, in the heat of battle, forged anew. During the 1990s, a neoliberal statebuilding paradigm emerged that emphasized democracy and free markets as the primary means toward rehabilitating public authority (for a summary and critique, see Paris, 2004). This paradigm was implemented in Iraq between 2003 and 2007 by the administration of President George W. Bush in extreme form, almost in caricature. The insurgency that followed the initially successful military invasion laid bare the inadequacy of neoliberal statebuilding. Small islands of apparent success in Iraq, in turn, directly informed a new paradigm on ‘counter-insurgency’ (COIN) statebuilding, which emphasizes winning the hearts and minds of the local population. This new model was the centerpiece of US statebuilding efforts from the announcement of the Bush ‘surge’ in Iraq in January 2007 to the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in December 2011. Continuing instability and tensions in Iraq, however, reflect the incomplete nature of statebuilding in that country and suggest additional lessons that follow, perhaps ironically, from the neoliberal approach rejected in the early years of the Iraq War. Political reconciliation, an essential part of statebuilding, requires not just an effective state but also constraints on state power, best achieved through democracy and economic liberalism.

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