America's Role as Nation Builder: Lessons Learned and Applied to Iraq

Nov 04, 2003Nov 05, 2003

Although the U.S. military victory in Iraq was swift, the task of transforming the country into a stable democracy is extremely difficult and promises to keep the U.S. government engaged for the foreseeable future.

The immediate goals of repairing infrastructure, creating a civil service, and writing a constitution are formidable. Even less clear is whether coalition countries can help build the economic, political, and cultural institutions that are necessary to make a sustainable system. Without the proper institutions, any short-term, positive results could quickly unravel.

Although the U.S., its lending institutions, and NGOs have significant “nation-building” experience, Iraq presents a unique challenge.  Simply transplanting western institutions in Iraq would be difficult, if not impossible.  The country lacks a recent history of democratic politics and is torn by ethnic and religious conflict. While Iraq is endowed with an abundance of oil, its resource wealth is both an opportunity and a challenge.  These resources will certainly affect the task of establishing a pluralistic democracy rooted in political liberalism.

In light of these concerns, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University hosted a half-day seminar to consider some of the following issues:

  • What lessons can be drawn from past experiences with “nation building” and how should those lessons be applied in Iraq and to future policy decisions?
  • What institutional arrangements are most conducive to sustainable economic development and political legitimacy? Can those institutions be fostered by outside forces?
  • Given the current situation in Iraq, what is the Bush Administration’s strategy for success and what benchmarks can be established by which to judge its effectiveness?

The Mercatus Center brings a unique perspective to these issues with contributions from George Mason University Professor of Economics and Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and former U.S. Ambassador James Dobbins, among others.  Members of the scholarly and policy communities and members of the press are encouraged to attend free of charge.


Program Agenda

9:15-9:30 Introduction 
9:15-9:20 Paul Edwards, President, Mercatus Center  
               Alan Merten, President, George Mason University 
9:20-9:30 Tim Roemer, Distinguished Scholar, Mercatus Center 

9:30-10:35 Plenary Session: How Did We Get Here and What Have We Learned? 
9:30-10:30   James Dobbins, RAND  
10:30-10:35 Tim Roemer, Mercatus Center  

10:35-11:00 Break

11:00-12:00 Panel – Toward Legitimacy: Strategic Institution Building
Moderator: Maurice McTigue, Mercatus Center
Jack Goldstone, School of Public Policy, GMU
Claudia Rosett, Wall Street Journal Europe
Vernon Smith, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, GMU

12:00-2:00 Lunch Session (Lunch Provided) 
12:15-12:45 The Bush Administration’s Strategy 
Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defense

12:45-1:45 Panel – Iraq: Physical and Political Security: Toward an Exit Strategy 
Moderator: Tim Roemer, Mercatus Center 
Bathsheba Crocker, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Frederick Barton, Center for Strategic and International Studies
William Nash, Council on Foreign Relations
1:45-2:00 Closing Remarks 
Tim Roemer, Mercatus Center


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