James Traub on Building Democratic Institutions
James Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, where he has worked since 1998. From 1994 to 1997, he was a staff writer for The New Yorker. He has also written for The New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and elsewhere. His articles have been widely reprinted and anthologized. He has written extensively about international affairs and especially the United Nations.
In recent years, he has reported from Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Kosovo and Haiti. He has also written often about national politics and urban affairs, including education, immigration, race, poverty and crime.
His books include, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power; The Devil's Playground: A Century of Pleasure and Profit in Times Square; City On A Hill, a book on open admissions at City College; and The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Traub: The paradox of this is… and we rightly fault the Bush Administration for imagining that somehow they could smash regimes at Afghanistan or Iraq and then these places will rebuild themselves organically. We would say happy to have helped and now we know you guys want to do this on your own, on the one side. On the other side, there is neo-colonial problem. And so, there both is the need to recognize this is a long-term slow process and you’ve got to be there and it cost money and commitments beyond the term of an individual president. At the same time, you have to recognize this is no longer the United States and the Philippines in 1908. Countries do not like to be seen as submitting even to the most benevolent colonial master. So, we have to find the way of asserting a positive role without triggering the nationalist impulse, which says, “I don’t care whether you’re good for us or not, I don’t want to have you here anymore.”
The challenge, says James Traub, is to promote institutions without seeming like a colonizer.
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