After state-building

Partly to deflect criticism of his call for a withdrawal from Iraq, Senator Barack Obama has said the U.S “should seize the moment” to build up its presence in Afghanistan. His rival John McCain agrees; when Obama called for two additional U.S brigades to be sent to Afghanistan, McCain demanded that three brigades be deployed i.e. 15.000 more troops. They also agree on taking a harder line vis-à-vis Pakistan.

But rather than lead to a chorus of support, something else has stirred. Voicing a concern I’m told is felt by several top Democrats, including Senator John Kerry, Jim Webb, the Democratic senator for Virginia, told the Financial Times that the US should avoid suggesting that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq will be followed by a surge of troops in Afghanistan.

In a break not only with the Bush administration’s Freedom Agenda, but also a post-2002 cross-party consensus that U.S should help rebuild failing and failed states, Senator Webb said the U.S

can’t create stable societies in places like Afghanistan . . . that can’t be our objective.

For now, the kink in the bi-partisan consensus on helping build failing and fragile states is small. But it also has a British variant in the Conservative Party and, I predict, will grow over time.

Thomas Kuhn argued that science does not progress via a linear accumulation of new knowledge, but undergoes periodic “paradigm shifts”. The comparison to foreign policy ideas is, I admit, not straight (and our view of scientific development has moved on), but it is straight enough. And we may be about to witness a paradigmatic shift away from state-building. But what replaces it?