Jonah Goldberg

The question has less oomph than the famous 1950s lament, "Who lost China?" But in many respects, it could be just as important.

This week, Islamic militants with alleged ties to al-Qaida seized the Somali capital of Mogadishu. It might be more appropriate to refer to the "former" or "historic" capital since Somalia hasn't had a government to speak of for about 15 years.

Another question that may be worth asking in the coming months or years is: Who lost East Timor? That young country was recently plunged into chaos, as violent gangs of former military troops have turned the capital into a thunderdome.

And, of course, if America bugs out of Iraq as an increasingly large number of liberal and isolationist voices suggest, another question we may need to ask is: Who lost Iraq?

You can play this game with lots of countries. One need only scan down the 2006 Failed States Index put out by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace to find a whole bunch of nations poised to revert back to a state of nature - only more red in tooth and claw thanks to land mines and AK-47s. A case in point would be Sudan, which tops the FSI and is committing genocidal atrocities on its own population in Darfur.

In the 1990s, liberal foreign policy wonks in and out of the Clinton administration had pretty much one serious foreign policy idea: nation-building. Many conservatives, for reasons good and bad, objected to the idea. America didn't need to fix Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti and other imploding nations - that's foreign policy as social work, conservatives said. In the 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush opposed nation-building while Al Gore supported it. Gore was right and Bush was wrong, though neither quite appreciated why. Liberal enthusiasm for nation-building - which should really be called "state building" - was largely based in do-gooderism. Conservative opposition was largely grounded in national security. "Superpowers don't do windows," remarked John Hillen, a conservative foreign policy realist and currently a State Department official.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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