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The US as a Semi-Failed State

Posted By on December 30, 2010

Noam Chomsky was one of the first to raise the possibility the US was becoming a failed state. He published Failed States: the Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Chomsky’s book in early 2006, before it became anyone realized the federal government was incapable of rehabilitating post-Katrina New Orleans. And left it to a network of non-profits and grassroots groups to take it on. This was also prior to the 2008 economic collapse, which the US government also badly mismanaged, in contrast to other developed countries who have clearly tackled unemployment and home foreclosures far more efficiently than either the Bush or Obama administration. And prior to Obama’s mismanagement of the BP oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in history.

I refer people to a Dec 1 BP Oil Spill status report, concerning the continuing seepage of oil and methane through cracks in the ocean floor, increased seismic activity (due to crust damage), and the stalled Gulf Stream current http://phoenixrisingfromthegulf.wordpress.com/

Moreover Chomsky’s book is more theoretical in nature. It focuses less on specific breakdowns in governance than on the US role as a “rogue” state that systematically violates international law and Constitutional civil liberties guarantees.

What’s a Failed State and Who Decides?

It used to be up to the CIA and World Bank to declare when countries were failed states. Over the last five years Foreign Policy magazine, in conjunction with Fund for Peace, has taken over this responsibility. In 2008 Foreign Policy was bought by the Washington Post, which some of my friends claim has longstanding CIA links. The Fund for Peace is a non-profit organization devoted to “sustainable security.”

Foreign Policy (one of their more interesting issues)

Foreign Policy (one of their more interesting issues)

Foreign Policy/Fund for Peace rate potential failed states on twelve criteria: demographics (low life expectancy), refugees, illegitimate government, brain drain, public service, inequality, group grievances, human rights, economic decline, security, factionalized elites (vying for control with legitimate government) and external (military and economic) intervention. Here’s their 2010 failed states index: http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=452&Itemid=900.

Unsurprisingly, Somalia is at number one. Its failed state status has been well publicized. The proliferation of Somali pirates, which are blamed on the breakdown on the rule of law, have caused massive disruption to global shipping in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere. Chad is at number 2, followed by Sudan, Zimbabwe, Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistan is number 10, Haiti number 11. Since 2007, the CIA has been predicting that Pakistan would become a failed state by 2015. I find this ironic, given that many Pakistani analysts blame their country’s failure to establish a stable democratic government on fifty years of CIA interference in their internal affairs (see http://www.fascistarmy.org/financed.html).

A Somali pirates montage

A Somali pirates montage

The close collaboration between the CIA and Pakistani intelligence (ISI), to finance and train Mujahideen guerrillas to fight the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, became public in 1979. However the CIA has been trying to distance themselves from the ISI since late 2001. After it came out that the head of the ISI had wired $100,000 to one of the 9-11 hijackers.

The Concept of Partially or Semi-Failed State

I myself would tend to put both Pakistan and India much higher on the list. As D. Suba Chandran of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies points out (see http://www.ipcs.org/pdf_file/issue/IB150-Suba-FailingRegions1.pdf), both countries have large geographic areas that are essentially ungovernable. In India these include Jammu and Kashmir in Northeast India and the so-called Red Corridor (plagued by high levels of militant communist activity) in Central/East India.

Likewise the tribal areas in Pakistan refuse to recognize the Pakistani government in Islamabad. In particular Balochistan has a strong Baloach separatist movement, which considers the current Pakistani occupation illegal. The Pentagon openly supports the secession of energy and mineral rich Balochistan from Pakistan – to become a US client state, like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the other energy and mineral rich former Soviet republics (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/11/28/afghanistan-and-the-road-runner/). In fact many Pakistani analysts believe that Pakistan, rather than, Afghanistan is the real target of current US military intervention. Especially in view of China’s intention to use the Chinese-built port in Gwadar, Balochistan to transport Iranian oil and natural gas – via Pakistan and India – to China.

Free Balochistan (note entire Middle East is redrawn)
Free Balochistan (note entire Middle East is redrawn)

In “Postcards from Hell” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/21/postcards_from_hell), Elizabeth Dickinson points out that Victorian Britain meets many of the formal criteria of failed statehood. Curiously she doesn’t mention this is also true of the US. It leads me to wonder – given the non-existent recovery, the steady decline of the US dollar, and the loss of America’s manufacturing base – how ordinary Americans will know when their country had well and truly failed as a state. I seriously doubt either Foreign Policy or the Washington Post will tell us.

To be continued with a an eastern European view that the US is a semi-failed state.


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