For reasons as painful as they are obvious, the Bush Administration has devoted considerable attention in recent years to improving America’s ability to stabilize and rebuild states during and after war. These efforts include: the creation in 2004 of a State Department Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization; the Defense Department’s adoption in November 2005 of a new doctrine (3000.05) giving stability operations comparable priority to combat operations; a December 2005 Presidential Directive acknowledging that the complex problems of rebuilding states such as Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be solved by the U.S. military alone; and the introduction last February of the concept of the “Long War”—a strategic and psychological recognition that the United States will be engaged in a protracted conflict against radical Islamists in which combat will represent only a fraction of the U.S. effort. Moreover, in March the White House supported Congress’ decision to create an Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State James Baker III and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. That group, which includes distinguished Americans such as retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former Secretary of Defense William Perry, took as its mission not only to determine whether and how the United States can prevail in Iraq, but also how it might avoid the post-combat mistakes made there in future contingencies.
The enormous and unanticipated difficulties the United States has faced in Iraq, as well as mounting troubles in Afghanistan, have ushered in a period of serious reflection on a problem—how to pacify, govern, reconstruct, reform, modernize and even democratize entire societies—that has plagued American military interventions throughout U.S. history. This is clearly not the first time the Washington foreign policy establishment debated how to stabilize and reconstruct states during and following combat. Nor were our experiences with Germany and Japan after World War II the first time we faced such challenges, either. In 1899, at the close of the Spanish-American War, Secretary of War Elihu Root created the Bureau of Insular Affairs (BIA). This bureau was in effect America’s first (and only) colonial office, created to support the Army’s reconstruction and occupation duties in the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Its history, as it turns out, is most instructive.
America’s Colonial Office
The U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is dominated by the ponderous brick and granite Root Hall, named in tribute to the former secretary of war. Elihu Root was a learned and respected attorney from New York who later became secretary of state, a senator from New York, and then the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he served for more than a decade....