Nation-Building: The Dangers of Weak,
Failing, and Failed States
by Richard S. Williamson
raq continues to be in the throes of violent turmoil. The cost in treasury and blood
is higher than anyone anticipated. Despite numerous “turning points,” milestones,
and benchmarks, there is no neat solution in sight. The American people are thus
understandably disheartened, discouraged and dismayed.
After over a decade as the world’s sole superpower, the brief and circumscribed
US military actions in the first Persian Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and the quick
defeat of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the American people were ill-prepared
for a lengthened, bloody post-conflict engagement in Iraq. “Black Hawk Down” in
Somalia was the rare exception, not the rule.
America’s high-tech military power was
capable of vanquishing foes quickly and at acceptable cost. It was also thought that
once Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime were brought down, Americans would
be hailed as liberators and, like Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism, Iraqi
democracy would emerge like a phoenix from the ashes. However, it is clear that the
history of the 1990s and the history being written in blood in Sadre City, Baghdad,
and elsewhere in Iraq, are tragically different.
A democratic broader Middle East would be a safer and more stable region.
People desire the dignity, human rights, and opportunity granted them by their
creator and promised by a freedom agenda. It also is undeniable that Saddam
Hussein was a vicious dictator who victimized his own people, sought weapons of
mass destruction, and threatened his neighbors. Testament to this indictment is
found in Saddam’s mass graves and torture chambers, in his nuclear program in the
80s and early 90s and use of chemical weapons against Iran and Iraqi Kurds, in the
long, bloody war initiated against neighboring Iran, the blitzing invasion and
occupation of Kuwait, and his on-going military spectacles and bellicose rhetoric.
The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. Even given all of that,
should Iraq have been invaded? That matter is for the historians to debate. My
purpose is not to relitigate that issue, but to recognize that any discussion of nation-
building going forward must be informed by the chaos and conflict in post-Saddam
Ambassador Richard S. Williamson
served as Assistant Secretary of State for International
Organization Affairs in the Reagan Administration; he has also served as ambassador and US
representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, as well as ambassador and US
representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights. He was named the inaugural Thomas J.
and Ruth Sharkey Distinguished Visiting Scholar of UN Studies at the Whitehead School of