Recent presidents campaigned against nation-building only to take it up as necessary for what defines America's ideals and strategic interests. Voters need to hear what Romney and Obama would do differently.
In each election, America redefines itself. But over the decades, one constant remains: Presidential candidates promise to focus on building up the nation, and then once in the Oval Office, they also do “nation-building” abroad.
In 1992, Bill Clinton put the economy first only to be forced to intervene in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo. In 2000, George W. Bush ran against nation-building and promised a “more humble” foreign policy. His secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, famously asked why US troops were walking Bosnian kids to school. After 9/11, however, Mr. Bush changed his mind, launching into nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2009, Barack Obama declared – in reaction to Bush’s actions – “The nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”
But even Mr. Obama has kept up nation-building in Afghanistan, helped Somalia produce its first functioning government in 20 years, and provided billions in aid to a weak and dangerous Pakistan. His latest project is Yemen, where he promises to promote “governance and development.”