After nine years of war in Afghanistan and seven more in Iraq, Americans are understandably weary of military interventions designed to remake or rebuild failed or fragile states. Nevertheless, many countries are still falling apart, or worse, falling into the hands of fundamentalists, terrorists, and other militants who disregard popular will and care little for human suffering. As a result, such nation-building interventions will remain necessary for the foreseeable future, as the U.S. involvement in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan demonstrates. So instead of renouncing these missions, the U.S. must better define why and how it will carry them out, to make sure the outcomes are effective and sustainable.
Causes of societal breakdown lie at local levels where lack of education, economic opportunities, healthcare, law enforcement, and government agencies facilitate the spread of illicit livelihoods, violence, indoctrination, and separatism. Yemenis desperately need basic education, primary healthcare, above-subsistence-level nutrition, and even safe drinking water to quash the deprivations that fuel militancy. Somalia's government operated on a national budget of approximately $11 million in 2009. By contrast, Somali pirates took in an estimated $200 million in ransom payments that year, using some of that loot to pay al-Shabaab terrorists for training and protection. Destabilizing conditions undermine lawful governance and hinder economic development while generating health, education, and welfare crises. No wonder those nations and others like them are failing.
As dangerous is the tendency for problems and violence to be spread first regionally and then globally (.pdf) by ideologues and terrorists. The movement of operatives, ideologies, and attacks from Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, and Tajikistan and from Yemen to Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda, and then onward to New York, Madrid, London, and Stockholm, demonstrate that the problem is real and must be addressed. Indeed, despite the backlash from American interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq under President George W. Bush, the administration of President Barack Obama is finding international involvements unavoidable in more than 75 nations.