Building the Nation Cover

Building the Nation

Missed Opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan

Heather Selma Gregg

Potomac Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2018, 296 pages

Book Review published on: January 18, 2019

Building the Nation is a formal objective essay with hints of transformational leadership that could potentially lead Iraq and Afghanistan to something inspirational. Heather Selma Gregg’s book is a fresh analysis of recent efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that supports Nicolas Lemay-Hebert’s 2009 paper on the limits of state building without national building. She proposes that a focus on national unity is missing from the coalition’s efforts, and the addition of this new pillar would give the people ownership of a dream of a life of significance through struggle and sacrifice; a special destiny that would give them the will to fight.

Gregg begins by highlighting that three years after the U.S. and coalition forces declared operations a success, Iraqi security forces collapsed. She points out that up to that point, efforts had focused more on a utilitarian approach of state building versus the emotional attachment that would come from nation building, and this utilitarian approach (without nation building) has led to favoritism, criminal leadership, unemployment, and a lack of transparency that has undermined progress.

Citing that the Iraqis themselves did not want a divided country, Gregg identifies tools, resources, and actors used by the United States and Europe in nation building that could be used to support her national unity pillar, such as neighborhood watch programs, a constitution, sports, national forests, common language, symbols, mass education, media, myths, militaries, rituals, bureaucracies, monuments, law, art, government, academics, artists, social groups, and private citizens. Although she elaborates on the tools, resources, and actors, she does not specifically articulate the inspirational motivation or a vision statement for the cause.

As stated by Gregg, Iraq and Afghanistan are deeply entrenched in a history of dictatorship. She recommends the creation of an ideology based on common ancestry and destiny. She believes that limited leadership and active participation creates citizens, and those citizens should defend the nation over the state or government. One example cited is the American dream that teaches a work ethic and responsibility.

As stated by Gregg, building the state and nation is a continuous process; however, I would like to see more of the four elements of transformational leadership as specifically outlined in her recommendation. If we consider the four components of transformational leadership; Gregg’s national unity pillar would enhance future endeavors by intellectually stimulating people toward a vision of national unity.

Some of the elements of transformational leadership missing from what Gregg is calling a purely state-building approach and expressed in her recommendation are the emphasis on caring about followers and communication of a vision. These are implied in the utilitarian approach but the intent is not clear.

Caring for followers is entrenched in transformational leadership. Vision and identity are essential in transformational leadership. Gregg states that population-driven initiatives should be focused on a dream, and adds that this vision should encompass transfer of ownership to the people and give them an identity versus alienating them. Maybe Gregg’s vision statement is that: she has a dream of national unity.

Book Review written by: Kathy Kim Strand, MEd, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas