Increasingly we are looking at a belt of instability that runs from Mali, Niger, and Nigeria in the west across to Sudan and Somalia in the east. Installing democracies, reforming corrupt governments, and promoting economic development—the typical tools of liberal foreign policy statecraft—will frankly not get much done on any quick timetable in this part of the world. Even our smartest and most peer-reviewed development PhDs have no clue what to do here, beyond collecting large salaries and consulting fees for the rest of their careers. But drone strikes and military sweeps, the preferred Jacksonian option, don’t hold out much hope either. Bombing the desert is one of life’s least rewarding military tasks.We’ve got a problem here that neither liberal nor conservative boilerplate policy prescriptions can solve. Nor does a judicious mix—a few drones here, a few aid dollars there—look particularly hopeful. Some of this is going to have to be handled by selective “ignorage.” When you really can’t solve a problem you sometimes just have to learn to live with it, and a good part of what these pathetic losers are up to is of no concern to the wider world. When you get right down to it, Americans would strongly prefer that people everywhere lived in religiously tolerant democracies and that nobody anywhere ever mistreated a woman, stoned an adulteress, or hanged a homosexual. But it is equally true that the country isn’t prepared to launch into an eternal series of wars to save thieves from having their hands cut off in small African towns.
Solving this challenging problem needs to be high on our agenda.