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.”
“Nation-building is the core way of thinking for Americans when we’re confronted by threats and areas [of the world] that are causing us harm,” states University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri, author of “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building From the Founders to Obama.”
Or as Roberts Gates, secretary of defense for both Bush and Obama, put it: “The security of the American people will increasingly depend on our ability to head off the next insurgency or arrest the collapse of another failing state.”
As a nation created on universal ideals, America also tends to want to implant those ideals in other lands, from the Philippines in the early 20th century to postwar Japan and Germany to today’s Yemen. Thomas Jefferson saw the need for the world to become a “society of states.”
This American mix of altruism and self-defense embedded in nation-building makes it a difficult campaign topic, especially in economic hard times and with an overstretched military. During last spring’s GOP debates, the candidates were divided, with Ron Paul on the stay-at-home side and Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman Jr. noting America’s indispensable global role.