I think Peter Beinart’s column on the relatively successful UN Peacekeeping mission in the Congo is incredibly important. I would just add the observation that not only does the record show that UN sponsored “nation-building” ventures are much more successful than quasi-imperial American ones, but that one of the things that distinguishes these kind of operations from, say, Iraq is that they’re at least largely consensual. You have a war-torn country. You have parties prepared to stop the fighting. You have a peace deal brokered with the assistance of international mediation. And you have, as part of the deal, an agreement to deploy third-party forces to the country to help restore order and build confidence between the parties.
The record of missions of this sort is decidedly mixed, but it’s also decidedly more positive than the record of unilateral endeavors and of preponderantly coercive ones. What’s more, a lot of the mixed results are determined by the fact that rich countries (especially the USA) tend to be reluctant to pony up the forces that are being asked for. People both inclined to believe that “American power should be used to advance our values” and that the sort of sentiment encapsulated by that phrase seems to have led to a giant disaster in Iraq (people like me, in other words) would be well-advised to try and focus future efforts on getting the United States (and other countries, too) to pitch in more on these kind of missions.