What a Real Failed Government Looks Like

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The United States government may be operating on minimal auxiliary power, but there are regimes around the globe that find even that level of functional governance laughable.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner vowed that there won't be an end to the shutdown anytime soon and a growing contingent of his fellow House Republicans suggested the opposite, word came down last weekend that U.S. special forces carried out raids in Libya and Somalia targeting key figures in al-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab movement that killed dozens of people at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, two weeks ago. The government shutdown is embarrassing on all fronts, but even this political skirmish hasn't stopped the U.S. from operating on a level far more stable than its counterparts in Libya and Somalia -- which rank Nos. 54 and 1, respectively, on the Fund For Peace/Foreign Policy Failed State Index.

Don't get us wrong: The government shutdown is terrible enough that even the Fund For Peace felt the need to explain why the U.S. isn't a failed state. But within the group's explanation of just how long this shutdown would have to go on for that to happen is a reminder of just how many actual failed states exist with problems that dwarf those of the United States' hiccup:

"There is not violence. There is no rioting in the street. Borders are still protected, firemen are still putting out fires, and business continues somewhat as usual. That is what resiliency looks like -- and not every country can claim to have it, or the same level of it."

The shutdown is pressuring the U.S., to be sure, but it's nowhere close to breaking it. Without diminishing the strain on government workers and those who rely on its programs, society is holding up in spite of Congress' stalemate. This may not reflect well on the U.S. ranking for next year's Failed State Index, but this year it's still the 20th most-stable country on the planet.

Compare that with Somalia, where government has been in tatters for decades, Western intervention has failed disastrously and only a mission led by the African Union of surrounding countries is containing what was once even more widespread violence, piracy and poverty. The attack on the mall in Kenya a few weeks ago was actually a reaction by al-Shabaab to Kenya's role in a steady string of setbacks for al-Shabaab operations in its Somalia stronghold.

Still, Somalia's central government and constitution are roughly a year old, as is its court system. The country was in a state of famine as recently as last year, and tremendous foreign influence from the African Union, United Nations and European Union are still necessary to preserve what little stability Somalia has achieved. Elite groups still control much of the nation's resources and human rights violations by various factions -- including, in some cases, the peacekeepers themselves -- are rampant.

Even the presence of government -- and we're using that term loosely in this case -- hasn't helped the Democratic Republic of Congo. While instability in Chad and the Central African Republic has destabilized the entire region and made it a hotbed of human rights violations and terrorist activity, the hostilities and crimes that have transpired during the presidencies of Laurent-Desire Kabila and his son, Joseph, have been particularly heinous.

The country's easternmost portion -- once invaded by Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe -- have served as a killing field during the ongoing civil war. More than 6 million have died as a result of the sprawling conflict since 1998, including those forced from their homes and left to combat starvation, disease and roving bands of government, rebel and foreign forces who kill and assault with impunity. More than 45,000 die per month, while it is estimated that 400,000 women are raped each year. Kabila and his administration in Kinshasa has done little to prevent it -- leaving the task to a large United Nations occupying force -- and, instead, have engaged repeatedly in election fraud and corruption. His is a country filled with resources including an estimated 30% of the world's diamonds and 70% of its coltan -- the mineral used to make screens in phones, tablets and other mobile devices. The value of the DRC's resources is estimated around $24 trillion, but Kabila's regime has already been accused of hiding millions in mining income -- not a small deal when much of the country's road and air infrastructure is built by those companies for their exclusive use.

The issues of failed statehood aren't exclusive to Africa, either. The Top 15 nations in the Failed State Index are riddled with names that should be familiar to any U.S. citizens keeping up with current events: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan all qualify thanks largely to unstable governments, scores of displaced residents, continued sectarian violence, nearly nonexistent security apparatus or an overt reliance on the presence of other nations for financial and physical security.

Looking for an example that's just a little closer to home? Try Haiti, where a political coup, an ineffective replacement government a series of devastating storms, a cholera outbreak and a magnitude 7.0 earthquake -- all within the past decade -- have created a cycle of flight, poverty, corruption and abuse that continues to this day. In spite of a presidential election two years ago and a string of controversial incidents, including its role in the cholera epidemic, a United Nations peacekeeping forces has maintained a presence in Haiti since the coup in 2004.

None of the above absolves the U.S. government of its failure to keep its doors open, its employees paid and its mechanisms in full, working order. What it does do, however, is offer a measure of hope. Political gaming aside, if U.S. citizens are passionate enough on one side of the debate to fight for extended health care benefits for everybody while those on the other side care enough about the country to want to keep its books balanced and solvency assured, that's putting the U.S. well out of the failed-state race.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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