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U.S. Addicted to Regime Change, Allergic to Nation-Building, Says Political Scientist Dominic Tierney

U.S. Addicted to Regime Change, Allergic to Nation-
Building, Says Political Scientist Dominic Tierney

by Alisa Giardinelli

How We Fight
Strikingly, Tierney says, "for every American who has died while nation-building, over 100 Americans have died in wars against other countries. But that's not how we remember it."

Addicted to regime change, but allergic to nation-building. After examining 150 years of U.S. foreign policy, that is political scientist Dominic Tierney's assessment of how Americans think about and understand war. It is also a view he finds extremely dangerous given the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, Tierney, the author of the newly-released How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War, says in today's New York Times that reformers who hope to broaden the military's skill set to fashion a more effective counterinsurgency and nation-building force can take inspiration from a perhaps unlikely source: the founders.

"Today, some officers warn that an army of nation-builders would lose its edge at conventional warfare," he writes. "But in keeping with the founders' belief that the soldier's role was to build, not just destroy, we need our own multipurpose military - an Army and Marine Corps with duties that extend far beyond winning tank battles against enemy states, or engaging in tank duels. ... The troops from America's farming heartlands who are helping Afghans build greenhouses, grow crops, and better feed cattle are not losing their identity as warriors - they're following in the footsteps of our earliest soldiers."

In How We Fight, Tierney says that Americans tend to view wars like World War II as glorious crusades, and nation-building missions, like Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq, as disastrous quagmires. But in noting that it was the Soviet Union, not the U.S., which was primarily responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany, and that World War II was not the "greatest generation" for civil rights, he says "our crusades were not as pure as we think."

Meanwhile, Tierney notes the country's nation-building missions were not as grim as they are remembered. "The U.S. succeeded in stabilizing many foreign countries including Germany, Japan, Austria, Italy, South Korea, Lebanon, Bosnia, and Kosovo," he says. "The nation-building mission in Somalia, for example, went down in history as a disaster, but it actually saved 100,000 lives."

Tierney received a Ph.D. in international relations from Oxford University and has held fellowships at Ohio State University and the Olin Institute and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is the co-author of Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006), which won the International Studies Association best book award and was nominated for the best book of the decade, and FDR and the Spanish Civil War: Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle that Divided America (2007).