Houses of cards -- trillions of dollars worth of them, constructed by the U.S. and its allies over more than a decade at a huge cost in lives and treasure -- are teetering across the greater Middle East.
Meanwhile vast numbers of refugees, many from those same ravaged states -- are threatening the fragile union of Europe itself.
What is as astounding as these catastrophes is the lack of any coherent discussion of them in what passes for politics in today's United States.
In Northern Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken Kunduz, the first major city they've seized since 2001, when President George W. Bush dispatched America's forces around the world to destroy al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies.
One estimate was that the Taliban who captured Kunduz numbered only about 500 fighters, just a fraction of the thousands of Afghan military, police and militia in the region. As of this writing, despite attacks by American fighter planes, and support by U.S. "advisors" on the ground, the Afghan military have still not been able to retake the city, nor relieve the threat against its airport, where many defenders of the city had fled.
What happened, according to the New York Times, was that the Afghan government's forces were not defeated in battle; they simply collapsed, imploded.
What about the years of training they'd received from the U.S and its NATO allies, the billions of dollars worth of weapons supplied? Not much use, it turns out, if the Afghan soldiers, police and militia are not willing to put their lives on the line for their own incompetent officers, corrupt local war-lords, and a distant graft-ridden and woefully incompetent government in Kabul.
Sounds like the same story in Iraq -- where the U.S. has spent colossal sums and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American lives in a vain and foolhardy attempt to shape Iraq's political ways. Despite all the effort, last spring a few thousand jihadists swept across Western Iraq to establish their so-called "Islamic State."
Once again, the Iraqi Army, supposedly numbering in the hundreds of thousands, armed and trained by the U.S. and its allies, turned tail and fled, leaving ISIS with huge captured stocks of captured weapons, ammunition.
Why did they flee? Turns out the army was -- again -- more an army of paper than fact. Many of their officers were content to collect the salaries of fictitious soldiers. But the main reason is that the soldiers and police were not willing to fight for incompetent commanders, nor for the floundering, graft-ridden, aggressively Shiite regime in Baghdad.
Next there's the vaunted "moderate" army that the U.S. set out to form in Syria. The United States Congress voted to spend half a billion dollars to find and train 5,000 such moderates over a two year period. Their incredibly delusory mission, as Washington saw it, would somehow be to take on the wild-eyed jihadists of ISIS, while doing nothing to defeat the ferocious dictatorship of Bashar-al Assad.
The upshot was also a hugely expensive fiasco: most of the 40 to 50 "moderates" who were dispatched back to Syria were almost immediately captured by radical jihadists, It wasn't clear if their weapons and vehicles were also captured, or they simply turned them over to their captors. Only 4 or 5 are still active, in some way.
Meanwhile, despite the air attacks launched against ISIS by the U.S. and its allies that were supposed to stop the jihadists in their tracks, apparently some 20,000 recruits from more than 100 countries have are joining ISIS ranks each year.
So where does that leave the United States and its allies?
For one things, as we said, it leaves them trying to cope with the tsunami of migrants at their borders. Most European and American leaders are only very reluctantly willing to accept any more than a tiny fraction of the refugees, though their own military actions continue to play a major role in creating much of the havoc those migrants are fleeing,
The only way to stem the tide is to somehow bring an end to the chaos that has caused it, in Syria and across the region. But no one knows how that's to be achieved.
The absurdities abound. For instance, though Iran is playing probably the major role in combating ISIS in Iraq, the U.S. refused to allow Iran to participate in the special high-level conference on combating terrorism held at the United Nations, because America has Iran on its list of state-sponsors of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to support Saudi Arabia's brutal attacks on civilian areas in Yemen, which have created another huge refugee crisis---despite the fact that the Saudis, by their financing of extremist Islamic groups in the region have done as much as any country to foment radical terrorism.
And while the Iraqi government is supposedly allied with the U.S. in fighting ISIS, it ignored U.S. protests to permit Russia to overfly Iraq with arms and supplies destined to bolster Assad in Syria.
Yet, you certainly won't get any insights into resolving this mess by listening to what passes for political debate in the United States these days. There's continued blather about America's "exceptionalism" and calls to spend even more on the military, though the U.S. is already the most powerful nation the world has ever known.
The U.S. Congress has refused to hold any serious debate to authorize America's on-going futile wars in the Greater Middle East.
It seems that the electorate, the presidential candidates, and most of the media have much more burning issues at stake -- Hillary Clinton's emails, for instance, Donald Trump's obscene banter, a fabricated "investigative" report on Planned Parenthood, or, yes, whether Barack Hussein Obama is really a closet Muslim.