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Creative-Minded Educator Jeremi Suri Serves Up Historical Lessons to New Generation of Nation-Builders in Newly-Released ‘Liberty’s Surest Guardian’

New book offers examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things; identifies five fundamental principles of nation-building essential to building strong, self-sufficient nations

AUSTIN, Texas, September 26, 2011 -- Using examples of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things, LBJ School and History Professor Jeremi Suri illustrates how starting small leads to progress and change in his new book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” (Simon & Schuster, Sept. Liberty's Surest Guardian book cover27 2011).

“In a time of deep partisanship and difficult economic circumstances, too many people believe that change is impossible,” Suri says. “The record of history shows that people, especially young people, can improve the world by bringing diverse citizens together to work on common problems. This has been the American experience with nation-building, when it has worked best. We need serious nation-building at home and abroad today. I remain optimistic that our young citizens are poised to become another generation of nation-builders.”

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, mined more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations and offers a plan for how to move forward. He defines nation-building as an effort to build institutions and practices that allow a people to govern themselves in peaceful and prosperous ways.

According to Suri, the United States must follow five fundamental principles in order to successfully build strong, self-sufficient nations in post-conflict situations.


    Those principles include:
  • Partners: Nation-building always requires partners. There must be communication between people on the ground and people in distant government offices.
  • Process: Human societies do not follow formulas. Nation-building is a process which does not produce clear, quick results.
  • Problem-solving: Leadership must start small, addressing basic problems. Public trust during a period of occupation emerges from the fulfillment of basic needs.
  • Purpose: Small beginnings must serve larger purposes. Citizens must see the value in what they are doing.
  • People: Nation-building is about people. Large forces do not move history. People move history.

From the successes of Reconstruction after the American Civil War to the failures of Vietnam, Suri describes how the five principles played into the most pivotal nation-building operations in history. According to Suri’s analysis, the problem-solving principle is an essential part of nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“In Afghanistan and Iraq the United States was not prepared to solve the problems that dominated the lives of most citizens,” Suri says. “The people of both societies wanted security and an improved standard of living. The United States overthrew the oppressive governing regimes, but it did not improve security or living standards in the first years of both occupations. In fact, things initially got worse for most citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

According to Suri, as the United States withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan, President Barack Obama should focus on building productive partnerships with local groups and regional powers in both areas.

“The United States must re-double its efforts to support institutions that will contribute to stable, participatory, and uncorrupt government,” Suri says. “The United States must support nation-building led by local and regional actors.”

A leading scholar of international history and global affairs, Suri is the first holder of the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

What Matters to You Matters

Jeremi Suri with Zach Child, second-year Master of Global Studies student

This call-to-action video is an inspiring adaptation of the concepts explored in "Liberty's Surest Guardian.” It illuminates a dynamic pattern of people, processes and conditions that translate into progress. Although the book focuses on politics and foreign policy, the patterns of change apply to all areas of life. Through this video, Suri encourages young people to identify what matters to them and then to use historical knowledge to fuel creativity in the ways they pursue what matters to them.

“I am a proponent of historical and political studies that are broad, compelling, creative, and, ultimately, useful. We should research with monkish rigor, as we write (and lecture) with novelistic flair.” – Jeremi Suri


VIDEO: Liberty's Surest Guardian - Woodrow Wilson Center, Oct. 4, 2011

What works when building nations? - The Dylan Rattigan Show, MSNBC, Sept. 28, 2011

'Liberty's Surest Guardian' tells of U.S. success, world impact - The Daily Texan, Sept. 28, 2011

How to leave a strong Afghanistan by Jeremi Suri -, Sept. 27, 2011

“Liberty’s Surest Guardian” Author Draws New Model for Nation-Building - Shelflife Q&A by Jessica Sinn, Sept. 27, 2011

George Washington's eerie foresight: Over the last two centuries, his vision of the nation-state has become the norm. But why? - Excerpt from "Liberty's Surest Guardian",, 09/22/2011

Books by Jeremi Suri

Jeremi Suri Named to Strauss Center’s Inaugural Mack Brown Chair; Global Affairs Scholar and Historian Receives Joint Appointment with LBJ School and History Department at UT Austin - June 7, 2011