Institutionalizing Imperialism?

In a speech to the Atlantic Council this morning, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, argues that we need an “international FEMA” to coordinate complex contingency operations across the various agencies of the American government and institutionalize lessons learned.

You can listen to the audio at the link.

What struck me about the presentation, as I outline at some length in “‘International FEMA’ Needed for Contingency Operations?” is the major change in organizational culture that would be required to pull off the idea. It took more than two decades to get the armed forces ready to do contingency operations and that’s a group that takes orders well and whose personnel turn over much more rapidly.

Beyond that, I wonder whether further institutionalizing imperialism is such a keen idea.

If we’re going to continue to invade, occupy, and rebuild countries several times a decade, it only makes sense to get better at doing it.  It’s arguable, however, that the lesson we’re repeatedly failing to learn from history is that sending Western troops into failed or failing states in an effort to “fix” them is a bad idea.

Further institutionalizing our ability conduct nation building by creating a new agency with such missions in mind could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Not only would it create presence in the interagency process whose sole mission is to fight for a larger share of the pie for such operations but the very fact of having invested significant resources into getting better at something makes doing that thing easier.

After two decades of resistance, we’re finally transforming the American armed forces into an expeditionary force geared at least as much to conducting contingency and stabilityoperations as to fighting major wars.  Do we really want to repurpose the State Department from a diplomatic corps into an operational force?

More at the link.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brett says:

    I’m definitely not enthused by this idea, for reasons as you put it. You’d be basically creating a new, very high-profile bureaucracy for the sole purpose of organizing interventions in other countries, which means that said bureaucracy would then become an in-built faction for intervention period. That’s a recipe for greatly increased expenses in foreign affairs.

    I imagine Thomas Barnett is thrilled, though, among others. Isn’t this type of quasi-imperialism basically what they want?

    Personally, I’m more in favor of selling weapons to whatever side we support, then letting them sort it out themselves. That’s not real popular, though, due to some very visibly nasty consequences (the Rwandan Genocide, Darfur, Bosnia).

  2. steve says:

    If we elect more neocons in the future, we will need such an agency. They really do believe that we can invade other countries and turn them into democracies. I think we should avoid that kind of thinking, but since it exists, and will probably be back in office in 4 or 8 years, should we not prepare accordingly?