Facing The Facts On Fake States


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

What do Haiti and Afghanistan have in common, other than the presence of our military? They’re both profoundly failed states that we pretend just need the right encouragement.

We told ourselves that in Somalia, too. And we soon may be telling ourselves whopping fibs about Yemen. Or Pakistan.

Failed, failing and outright fake states come in different flavors, from societies in which tribes remain more powerful than struggling governments to those that are gang-plagued and anarchic. There’s no single solution to the problem. But we and other successful states typically stand in the way of any solutions.

We just can’t think past the Western model of what a state should be. As long as there’s one midlevel bureaucrat with a working cellphone in Country X, we insist there’s a functioning government.

Far from helping the locals gain better lives, our insistence that they do it our way stands in their way. Congratulating ourselves on cutesy multiculturalism at home, we insist on imposing our government template abroad.

And the “world community” insists that there’s no higher value than national independence — a flag at all costs. That’s cold comfort to millions of Haitian earthquake victims, who’ve been denied competent governance all their lives.

We — and the locals in failed or failing states — would be far better off if competent powers engaged in a form of triage, categorizing them into:

States With Hope (such as Liberia), where government as we know it has a chance.

Nonstate Territories (Afghanistan), in which tribes are better suited to govern themselves than a centralized state would be or that are hopeless and must be contained (Somalia).

Chronic Failures With National Identities (Haiti) that want to get better but can’t. Such cases require direct government by a consortium of foreign powers.

Our insistence that every state drawn on a map replicate the model of independent, centralized government developed in the West is just a new, seductive form of imperialism.

Consider two current cases:

Afghanistan: Is this mosaic of mutually hostile tribes truly better off being ruled from Kabul? Certainly, central government’s a better deal for corrupt officials in the capital. But most Afghans plainly prefer to live under their own tribal leaders and laws. Tribal leaders are responsible to their people; national officials maintained in office by a foreign power aren’t.

We’re all for organic produce but not for organic government.

The most creative soldiers we have in Afghanistan believe that working with tribes and village councils is our best hope to counter the Taliban. But our distant diplomatic bonzes know better: Kabul must rule — the welfare and wishes of the people be damned.

Haiti: This heartbreaking country fought passionately for its independence two centuries ago — then promptly fell prey to self-inflicted savagery, corruption and black-on-black exploitation. Leftist lies be damned, it was never better governed than during the US interventions in the early 20th century.

Even without the catastrophes of an earthquake on top of hurricanes, Haiti lived on handouts, lacking the infrastructure, rudimentary education levels and rule of law that could give it a fighting chance. An impoverished population ravaged its environment. Gangs reigned.

Yet the international community prefers to keep Haiti on life support rather than acknowledge the need for heroic surgery. A long-term, mandated government must come from without. But we’d rather see Haitians suffer than give up our political myths.

Now, as the United States does the heavy lifting again, an irresponsible world complains that the relief effort isn’t absolutely perfect. (Where, exactly, would the aid situation be without our military? Would the whining French like to take the lead? How about the Venezuelans? Be our guests.)

Even had Haiti’s docks, main airport and roads come through the earthquake unscathed, they couldn’t have handled the relief effort in the wake of so great a disaster. The people of Haiti aren’t suffering just because of the earthquake. That tragedy only exposed pervasive failure — a misery compounded because successful powers have for so long preferred giving alms to admitting that Haiti can’t govern itself.

America’s greatest strategic failure in our time is a failure of the imagination. Until we think more creatively about the growing failed-state problem, the suffering — and the threats — will only worsen. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters new novel, “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. He is Fox News’ strategic analyst. His most recent book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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