Over on the Chicago Boyz Forum, Joseangel has posted this interesting note on an apparent opportunity for the Right in Latin American politics.
In the esoteric world of defense intellectuals, one of the sharpest points of contention between Thomas P.M. Barnett and John Robb is over the feasibility of Tom’s System Administration concept. This issue has been the topic of numerous posts and the occasional rhetorical jab between the two strategic theorists. This pattern repeats itself, in my view, for a number of reasons. First, even friendly professional rivalry causes a natural bumping of heads; secondly, Robb looks at a system and thinks how it can be made to fall apart while Barnett looks at the same system and imagines how the pieces can be reintegrated. Third, no one really has all the answers yet on why some states fail relatively easily while others prove resilient in the face of horrific stress.
Robb contends that Global Guerillas can potentially keep a state in permanent failure, despite the best efforts of System Administration intervention to the contrary. A new level of systemic collapse, call it State Failure 2.0, where failure constitutes a self-sustaining dynamic. Broadly defined, you would chalk up ” wins” for Robb’s point of view in Somalia, Iraq and the Congo. In Dr. Barnett’s column you would find Germany, Japan, Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone in evidence for the efficacy of Sys Admin work. Lebanon and Afghanistan perhaps could be described as a nation-building draw at this point in time.
Why permanent failure in some cases but not others ? This is something that long puzzled me. Then today, I read an intriguing pair of posts at Paul Hartzog’s blog – ” Ernesto Laclau and the Persistence of Panarchy” and ” Complexity and Collapse“. An excerpt from the first post:
“Ernesto Laclau was here @ UMich and gave a delightful talk that gave me some key insights into the long-term stability of panarchy.
…However, with the new heterogeneity of global social movements, Laclau makes the point that as the state-system declines, there is no possibility of the emergence of a new state-like form because the diverse multitude possesses no single criterion of difference around which a new state could crystallize.
Thus, there is no possibility of a state which could satisfy the heterogenous values of the diverse multitude. What is significant here is that according to this logic, once panarchy arrives, it can never coalesce into some new stable unified entity.
In other words, panarchy is autopoietic as is. As new criteria of difference emerge and vanish, the complex un-whole that is panarchy will never rigidify into something that can be opposed, i.e. it will never become a new hegemony. “
While I think Paul is incorrect on the ultimate conclusion – that panarchy is a steady-state system for society – I think he has accurately described why a state may remain ” stuck” in failure for a considerable period of time as we reckon it. Moreover, it was a familiar scenario to me, being reminiscient of the permanent failure experienced by the global economy during the Great Depression. Yet some states pulled themselves out of the Depression, locally and temporarily, with extreme state intervention while the system itself did not recover until after WWII with the opposite policy – steady liberalization of international trade and de-regulation of markets that became known as globalization.
The lesson from that economic analogy might be that reviving completely failed states might first require a ” clearing of the board” of local opposition – defeated Germany and Japan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero. Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors as a countervailing force.
System Administration as a cure for helping connect Gap states might be akin to government fiscal and monetary policy intervention in the economy; it may work best with the easiest and the worst-off cases where there is either a functional and legitimate local government to act as a partner or where there is no government to get in the way and the warring factions are exhausted.
The dangerous middle ground of partially failed states is the real sticking point.
Cross-posted at Zenpundit
Spaced over several months, Netflix has been bringing us a series of Johnny Cash – at Montreaux, in Scotland, in Austin. Tonight we saw him in Ireland. These have been enjoyable and at times riveting. They tend to repeat themselves, but on this tour he clearly moved his audience (silently mouthing the words) with one he didn’t sing in the others, “Forty Shades of Green.”
Consider a bullet. I had one sitting on my dresser as a kid – a Civil War Minnie Ball. Toss it into the air. It tumbles. It hovers, for a split microsecond, pointing at you as it falls. Consider that same bullet in 1862 (I found it on a farm near Antietam). Consider standing in front of the line of Blue (it was clearly a Yankee bullet) with your fellow Virginians. Consider that same bullet again. Fired from a Springfield, heading your way. Take a split microsecond, same length of time as before, and focus in on only the bullet. The situations are almost indistinguishable if looked at on a short enough time scale. The 1862 bullet points at you in the same way the modern one does. In that split microsecond, an observer who happened to just drop in and observe only the bullet would be hard pressed to decide which situation he or she’d rather be in. Practically the same mass of metal. Same shape. But look closer. The 1862 bullet should be warm – evidence of the kinetic energy stored in it. The present bullet should have a coat of oxidation. But there were bullets fired in 1862 that had been dropped in the crick the month before they were fired, and the modern bullet might have been sitting in the sun for a while. There’s always something for the naysayer to latch on to. But take another snapshot a couple of milliseconds later, and the difference between the two situations is instantly clear – the bullet in 1862 has traveled a lot further – and in a much straighter line than the arc of the falling bullet tossed from your hand. Now which situation would our hypothetical observer rather be in?
Bush’s State of Union (with streaming video).
Michael Gerson speaks for himself (though where his loyalty lies remain clear). So often his precision, more articulate than Bush’s own, led to our understanding the person who spoke them. (Yes, I wish our presidents wrote their own speeches, but in the end it is Webb’s inconsistency rather than his hoary cliches that poses a problem.)