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I'll Take the Boring West Over These Countries Any Day

As Harper dilates on the virtues of Calgary, and the United States slogs into one of its dullest and nastiest presidential campaigns between two of its least impressive candidates ever, the West may take some comfort from the relative tranquility around their major office-holders. As dismal as things can seem over here, we should be aware of how bad things can get, and in some countries, generally are.
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As Stephen Harper passes a leisurely summer dilating on the virtues of Calgary and its stampede (now that the French version of "O Canada," with its inspiring reference to our national aptitude to "carry the sword and the cross" has been reinstated there); and even as the United States slogs into one of its dullest and nastiest presidential campaigns between two of its least impressive candidates ever, the West may take some comfort from the relative tranquility around their major office-holders.

The president of Romania, Traian Basescu, has been impeached by the congress, subject to a referendum, for resisting the encroachments of a government that has fired the speakers of both legislative houses and threatened to remove the justices of the constitutional court after they determined that Basescu had not, as his insubordinate premier, Victor Ponta has claimed, violated the constitution.

The departing governor of the Spanish province of Castellon, Carlos Fabra, has retired under investigation for financial misfeasance, but certainly deserves the benefit of any doubt as no charges have been laid and the political atmosphere in Spain is frequently clouded by the infelicitous mixing of justice and politics.

What is more fragile is the former governor's executive judgment. His province is in the southeast, close to Valencia, has $25 billion in debt, a junk-bond credit rating, and Fabra is best-known for the construction of a nearly $200 million airport which has failed in 18 months of operations to attract a single flight. The former governor represented it as a sure tourist mecca, because he intended aviation enthusiasts to sit right beside the tarmac and watch aircraft land and take off, and circulate in the hangars and baggage-handling areas, in contravention of all internationally agreed safety standards. Obviously, Fabra's hunch on how to lure the tourists will not be put to a test if he can't attract any airplanes.

The West's unselfconscious allies in the near East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are usually worth a glance for those seeking reassurance that political science in their own countries could be in worse condition. United Nations and NATO ambitions in Afghanistan have now been scaled back from any notion of nation-building to hopefulness lubricated by semi-promises of continuing assistance, that a Taliban victory and an open-ended, multi-factional civil war can be avoided. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has skillfully dismissed his benefactors' request for a reduction in corruption with anti-American theatrics and dark threats that anything that would replace him would be worse.

Allied forces are now asked to serve to keep an utterly contemptible and ungrateful regime alive while we train enough supposedly loyal Afghans to keep the Taliban out of outright control. Bribes have been reformulated as weapons of conversion of the disaffected. What will ultimately happen is the collapse of federal government and re-emergence of regional warlords each with a foreign sponsor: Iranian, Pakistani, Indian, Russian, Uzbeki.

Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, detained the prime minister for a symbolic 30 seconds for declining to indict the country's president for corruption. But his promenade as the army commander, Ashfaq Kayani's only rival for popular esteem, was interrupted by allegations that his family had collected $3.7 million in bribes from property developers. Neither country has ever demonstrated the least disposition to accountable national self-government and the George W. Bush mission to spread democracy from Egypt to Pakistan now appears more absurd than ever, and must be the most dubious cause for which the lives of American servicemen were ever sacrificed by authority of the president and Congress. Afghanistan has always been too poor and xenophobic to justify any serious effort to impose any order on it, even to assist self-imposition of such order as in the last 10 years. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed semi-failed state, irrationally obsessed with India, a Monty Python farce, if it were not so potentially dangerous.

Unfortunately, as these reviews of political disorder always do, we are brought back to Africa. In the running with Somalia and Yemen for irrepressible disorder is, as through most of its 52 year history, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where government forces were recently routed by the M23 rebel group around Bunagana in the eastern part of the country. Six hundred federalist soldiers staged the unusual tactical step of retreating across an international border into Uganda, while the rebels inadvertently killed a U.N. peacekeeping observer pursuing them, where they were disarmed. The DRC (so-called to distinguish it from the smaller and stabler Republic of the Congo across the Congo River), has never had a day of coherent government since the end of the reprehensibly severe and exploitive Belgian colonial government. The equivalent of a regular army division of multinational United Nations forces has served there for many years, as well as mercenaries from poor countries who rent themselves out to domestic tribes and factions which raise rather than lower the level of violence, and generate hard currency for their home governments.

But this year, very regrettably, there is a new continental champion for governmental disintegration. Three quarters of Mali is now controlled by the Mesopotamian Al-Qaeda, driven from Mespotamia and now plundering mosques in Timbuktu. The former president of Mali, Amadou Toure, was ousted in a coup in March, and his successor was so badly beaten by a mob that he was given up for dead, but survives now in a French hospital. But there is now no government in Mali's capital, Bamako. The powers that drove Al Qaeda to Timbuktu, should ensure that it does not take root there, toll-gating the flow of drugs from Egypt to Europe.

Some Afro-perennials endure, providing continuity: Zimbabwe's unspeakable President Robert Mugabe has attracted some concern, if not overt disapproval, for running down and killing several pedestrians in his speeding official grand Mercedes.

And even the egregious UNESCO, one of the most corrupt of the United Nations' agencies, has engaged in self-criticism for consenting to hand out the Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, funded by the president of Equatorial Guinea of the same name, who has ruled despotically for 33 years, pocketing much of the country's windfall oil revenue. UNESCO has been proverbially poorly administered, but this mockery is too much even for it. There are glimmerings of hope in a number of sub-Saharan countries, such as Ghana and Rwanda, but the limited aptitudes for self-government of many of the region's nationalities, doubtlessly exacerbated by the rapine of some of the supposedly civilizing colonists, (the British and the French were the best, but even they had their lapses), have created terribly intractable problems.

Obviously, sophisticated western societies must be held to a higher standard, but no matter how discouraged we may become with dismal election campaigns and mediocre or venal government, we should be aware of how bad things can get, and in some countries, generally are.

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