I came across a swirl of articles this week that seem to converge around a theme: At the Globalist, a piece about how the media, by neglecting the major stories coming out of pre-9/11 Afghanistan, contributed to the failure to articulate a coherent American foreign policy in the region. Also at the Globalist, a piece about how we seem to be repeating the same mistake in Somalia as we speak, this time due to a reductionist tendency to view all conflicts therough counter-terrorism. This Foreign Affairs piece on the tenacity of ethno-nationalism as a driving force in regional conflicts for the foreseeable future. And finally two WPR pieces on the Army’s new emphasis on stability and reconstruction operations, as well as the limitations of an imbalanced emphasis on counterinsurgency.
I know from my own experience that there’s a certain point beyond which a country veers so far into conflict and chaos that it just gets tossed into the FUBAR bin in my mental file cabinet, and I stop following the developments, let alone trying to formulate a way out of the mess. The two countries spotlighted by the Globalist fit the mold perfectly. Lebanon during the Civil War qualified (which is what makes the current situation there so alarming), Iraq gives every indication of being a candidate, the Pakistani tribal areas are close, etc.
But there’s every indication that this is a problem that is not going to go away. Hubert Védrine, a former French Foreign Minister who believes in the necessity of the nation-state, is fond of saying that there are two sorts of problem states: those that are too strong (Myanmar) and those that are too weak (Somalia). The latter often pose more of a policy challenge than the former, although the case of post-Saddam Iraq demonstrates how often the two are intertwined.
The question is, What do we do about them? Stand aside and we facilitate the worst sorts of humanitarian disasters; intervene and we create animosity on either side of the conflict. Meanwhile, neither choice immunizes us from the threat of extremism that can easily be appropriated into the global terrorist network.
Then there’s the question of what sort of intervention is most effective. The choice between soft or hard power seems reductionist, but if we can agree on a combination of the two, what’s the right dose? And should the military really be the delivery vehicle for stability and reconstruction initiatives that have traditionally been the bailiwick of civilian authorities?
In theory there’s an ideal balance, but what about in practice? I don’t have an answer formulated, but consider this a point of departure for a running discussion. So if you have any thoughts, shoot me an e-mail (myfirstname at worldpoliticsreview dot com ). I’ll post anything that advances the debate.