Thursday, April 28, 2011

Failed state?

Is the US a failed state?

According to one commonly used definition, a failed state is "a dysfunctional state which also has multiple competing political factions in conflict within its borders or has no functioning governance above the local level."

Looking at the US the way a foreign correspondent (or a US Embassy staffer writing a cable back home) might look at Mexico, you get this impression:

Congress appears increasingly dysfunctional, with both parties trading blame on budget issues and refusing to move out of gridlock. U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional leaders struck a last-minute deal to avert a total government shutdown. Opposition parties remain at odds and in conflict, in spite of the recent agreement.

President Obama is struggling to convince an increasingly skeptical public (and opposition) that his leadership is legitimate, and is also having difficulty winning support for wars that he inherited but on which he has taken a commanding position.

A top business leader in the country has called on the president to prove that he is not a fraud, and is indeed a US citizen and well-educated.

Education remains a serious problem throughout the country, in spite of good intentions by the new administration. "Teachers' Unions Failing U.S. Schools" read one recent headline by Time magazine.

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and other reputable local newspapers, "secessionist movements" are on the rise, as American citizens increasingly resist government influence. Although crime is, by and large, down, homicide rates in Washington DC and Atlanta are worrying. There have been efforts made by the authorities to persuade residents that foreigners (Mexicans, in particular) are to blame, but it appears that local demand for drugs is at the root of the problem.

Corruption remains rampant along the border. A sheriff in Texas was arrested for aiding the drug cartels, while a mayor in Columbus, Ohio, is also being investigated. Currently, there are hundreds of federal agents (FBI and Homeland Security, mainly) being investigated for alleged ties to the drug cartels. Reforms to clean up the institutions have been promised, but given past efforts, this is unlikely.

A former top anti-organized crime prosecutor and sitting governor was linked to a prostitution ring, and forced to resign. While the resignation was a positive sign, the fact that he wasn't arrested is disconcerting. Confidence in the US authorities' ability to deliver on promises to root out corruption and criminal behavior by public officials is at an all-time low.

Efforts to crack down on money-laundering remain fruitless. Banks who have been found complicit in organized crime have simply been asked to pay large fines and apologize, rather than be shut down as they would be in Mexico.

The war on drugs is proving costly, and public support in the US has waned to the point of absolute boredom. The US government has spent more than $1 trillion since launching its war during the Nixon era, and has failed to capture one single "capo," or cartel leader. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the usual suspects have been arrested. Consumption continues unabated. The US authorities continue to insist that drugs in the US are distributed only by gangs, but when a Mexican or Colombian is arrested, the defendant automatically belongs to a "cartel." Given the amount of resources being spent by countries like Mexico on the war on drugs, not to mention the lives being lost, the US authorities need to be doing a better job.


  1. There is only one solution to the drug violence, only one: Legalize drugs. The violence and crime will end very quickly.

    -- Felipe

  2. There is another extreme and dificult solution, however dificult situations call for dificult solutions.
    Plan B: When theres a drug bust take the drugs and lace them with cyanide, return them to the cartel and let them go. Very shortly you will see surprising results.

  3. "Failed state"? A prominent ex-General in Mexico is extensively quoted in Processo providing a suggested future focus on the war on drugs in Mexico, and saying that 40% of the country is not in control of the federal government .. but, instead, under the control of organized crime. Whine all you want about the USA but I'll describe what's happened in Mexico is as close to a failed state as you can get.