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What kind of nation building?

By Jackson Murphy
web posted January 21, 2002

Last week the interim government of Afghanistan reached its first milestone, the thirty-day mark. In America the usual benchmark of administrations is set in the first 100 days, but in Afghanistan things are on a shorter timeline. Certainly it is off to a much better start compared to the new Argentinean standards but it is unsettling to think that already people are predicting the fall of the Afghan government.

According to United Press International, "U.N. officials launched a $100 million appeal to help the country's interim government, saying the new Afghan rulers immediately need $70 million to pay more than 235,000 civil servants who have not been paid for eight months."

If the government does not get that money, it will surely fall the U.N. argues. After the immediate problems of payroll the question will become how to rebuild this broken land. It certainly cannot get any worse.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times writes, "It is impossible to exaggerate how broken this place is. You know what ground zero looks like, where the World Trade Center once stood? Well, probably half of Kabul looks the same way, thanks to 22 years of civil war. And the "good" half - with its scant electricity, no phones, no mail, a 10 p.m. curfew and only a bare minimum of food - looks like a caravan ghost town. We might as well be doing nation-building on the moon."

Isn't this the same nation building that candidate Bush was so weary about? "Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war," said Bush during the second debate with Al Gore during the 2000 campaign.

Since then, President Bush has reframed the issue as more about stability than about fuzzy meals on wheels programs. The problem, for Bush, and many is that the nation building of the 1990's wasn't important to national security and seemed to be superfluous. It wasn't always that way.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, points out that, "In general, nation building hasn't always had such a poor reputation. The premier example of its success is the American effort to rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II, a boon not just to the citizens of those two countries, but to the world."

The key point is that those two nations were made in a way and in an image that was truly American-free markets, democracy, and pluralism. Sure, Germany ended up going along with the greens and socialists and Japan has taken crony capitalism to disgusting new levels. But they are still our misguided little friends.

So what kind of nation are we teaching the Afghans to make? Judging by the 'we-need-to-send-money-now' sentiments, it is going to be one of bloated proportions. I concede that there has to be a government-they need police and courts, probably even a military. But are we to seriously believe that Afghanistan needs nearly a quarter of a million civil servants?

So far the UN seems to believe that as long as we get that $70 million for back pay, everything else will fall into place. Should they get their pay? Of course, but shouldn't we make sure that these numbers are not cooked up Enron-Anderson style before we send over nine figures?

I realize that there will many positions in the government. There will, no doubt, be an Afghan Environment Department, which will be able to predict the onslaught of the dreaded Afghan winter, a Heath department to advise against washing cars with port-a-potty water, and if ever there was a reason to have a Minister of the Interior to look after the caves, this is it.

That doesn't mean that it should be a place of Democrat sponsored farm subsidies, it needs to be one of prudent tax cutting growth. Speaking of taxes, if they haven't been paid in eight months, did the Taliban collect taxes or was it more of a Mafia horse head in the bed type arrangement.

The nation we should be building should be one that is based on the free market. So before we drop Kennedy-Daschle daisy cutters teaching Afghanistan how to create the great pork barrel welfare state we should drop translated copies of Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" and maybe let Ron Paul (R-Texas) parachute in too. It is about giving the right tool for the job: freedom.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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