In September 2002, approximately one year after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush released a new national security strategy explaining how the government would organize its national security institutions — military power, homeland defenses, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomacy and foreign aid — to combat terrorism.
The new strategy also explained the doctrine of preemptive action, that is, the right to act against emerging threats before they are fully formed, and contained the single most important lesson from 9/11, which is that weak states can pose as great a danger as strong states.
President Obama made a similar observation in his 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations,” he said.
“The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states — all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos.”
What is a failed state?
The Fund for Peace (FFP) has kept an index of failed states since 2005. FFP, at Ffp.statesindex.org,
tracks a combination of variables — social, environmental, economic, political and military — to assess 178 countries around the world in terms of their economic development, the legitimacy of their government, the grievances of subgroups, etc. The FFP then uses these variables as inputs to produce a Fragile States Index; they recently changed of the name of its index from Failed States, to Fragile States.
The higher the score, the greater risk of instability and thus the more fragile the state.
South Sudan ranks at the top of this year’s list, while the Nordic states, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland sit safely at the bottom. Iraq ranks number thirteen because of a weak national government, persistent security problems, marginalized ethnic groups and numerous human rights abuses.
All of which goes to explain President Obama’s decision to launch air strikes against the Islamic State in Northern Iraq in order to assist the Kurds, protect the Yazidis and protect American personnel. As Obama said in his recent radio address, the US cannot intervene in every crisis, but when thousands of innocent people are under the threat of genocide, we have to help.
We must stand up for our principles and stand by our friends. We cannot look away.
Obama made two other important points in his radio address.
First, Iraq needs to defend itself and defend its territory. This will require, among other things, reconciliation among Iraq’s many ethnic groups, which may or may not be realistic.
Second, there is no American military solution to the crisis in Iraq, meaning the unending chaos that makes Iraq a failed state. Keep this in mind when you weigh criticism of the president’s policy, no matter the source.
Jack Godwin is an award-winning political scientist whose appeal spans the political spectrum. He is the author of three books on politics, most recently "The Office Politics Handbook," and is now writing his first novel, a political thriller set at the end of the Cold War, the golden age of spy fiction. To view more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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