Haiti, Nation-Building, and Soft Power

By / 1.18.2010

I am minimally qualified to comment on the crisis in Haiti, but one of Talking Points Memo‘s readers has what sounds to me like an important perspective on American involvement in reconstructing the country over the coming years (not months). Since Haiti is in our backyard, the reader says, we will have to assume nation-building efforts on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan if Haiti is not to devolve into chaos.

I’m sure Jim will have much sharper thoughts on all of this, but I’ll just throw out there the suggestion that the great tragedy before us presents at least one silver lining — it gives us an opportunity to gain valuable experience in nation-building, and to do so in a context where our help is viewed gratefully rather than resentfully.

If soft power and nation-building are to become increasingly important in foreign policy to avoid the prospect of failed states (or to address actually existing failed states), then the United States must not only repair its image as a hegemonic bull in a china shop, but it must show that we can actually produce an unambiguously good reconstruction. Simply, we need to be trusted and seen as effective. I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that we’re not exactly effusing these qualities today when it comes to our nation-building efforts.

Of course, our efforts could go badly in Haiti, which would be another setback for us. But what alternative do we have than to hope for the best?