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Andrew Sullivan, in a measured defense of Reagan’s foreign policy, says that among the things he’d never have imagined about Reagan would be:
…that Reagan would believe that occupying and nation-building for a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq was a good idea.
Right — it’s pretty clear that Reagan wouldn’t have supported nation-building. Neither did George H.W. Bush. And that was the genesis of the Taliban. The US sponsored mujahedin armies who blew Afghanistan to pieces in a religious war against the Soviet-backed government, and then did nothing in the subsequent 12 years to rebuild the country. And so the place became a crazy mix of failed state and religious totalitarian dystopia, and one of our former mujahedin proxies used it as a base to launch a spectacular attack on New York.
The Reagan-Bush I approach to Afghanistan was pretty similar to the Bush II theory about Iraq (and, for that matter, Russia and other post-Communist states): if you blow apart the totalitarian government, a free-market democracy will naturally rise up to replace it. The problem with conservative governance in the Bush II era wasn’t an excessive commitment to nation-building. It was a utopian belief that nation-building is easy and happens of its own accord. There have been two moments when the US needed to make a substantial commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan, in 1990 and 2002, and presidents named Bush blew it both times.
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