If there is one central, recurring mistake the United States makes
when dealing with the rest of the world, it is to assume that creating
political stability is easy. We overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq
and then dismantled the structure of the Iraqi state, sure that we could
simply set up a new one. We toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and were
confident that with foreign aid, elections and American know-how, we would
build a new, modern nation. After all, the governments we were helping to
establish -- democratic, secular and inclusive -- were so much better than
those they followed. But we should have heeded the wise man's declaration
that "the most important political distinction among countries concerns not
their form of government but their degree of government."
So many of the world's problems -- from terrorists in Waziristan to the
AIDS epidemic to piracy in Somalia -- are made worse by governments that are
unable to exercise real authority over their lands or people. That was the
central insight of Samuel P. Huntington, the greatest political scientist
of the past half-century, who died on Christmas Eve.