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The world has grown much more peaceful over the past 15 years -- except for oil-rich countries. Oil wealth often wreaks havoc on a country's economy and politics, helps fund insurgents, and aggravates ethnic grievances. And with oil ever more in demand, the problems it spawns are likely to spread further.
The Obama administration has decided to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 plotters in federal court in New York. In a 2008 essay, Kenneth Roth outlined why and how the U.S. government should use the criminal justice system to prosecute terrorists.
Despite some eerie parallels between the position of the United States today and that of the British Empire a century ago, there are key differences. Britain's decline was driven by bad economics. The United States, in contrast, has the strength and dynamism to continue shaping the world -- but only if it can overcome its political dysfunction and reorient U.S. policy for a world defined by the rise of other powers.
In the twenty-first century, power will be diffuse rather than concentrated, and the influence of nonstate actors will increase. But the United States can still manage the transition and make the world a safer place.
The Bush administration's new strategy in Iraq has helped reduce violence. But the surge is not linked to any sustainable plan for building a viable Iraqi state and may even have made such an outcome less likely -- by stoking the revanchist fantasies of Sunni tribes and pitting them against the central government. The recent short-term gains have thus come at the expense of the long-term goal of a stable, unitary Iraq.
See also: "When to Leave Iraq: Today, Tomorrow, or Yesterday?" a response package including Colin H. Kahl and William E. Odom.
While the crisis in Darfur simmers, the larger problem of Sudan's survival as a state is becoming increasingly urgent. Old tensions between the Arabs of the Nile River valley, who have held power for a century, and marginalized groups on the country's periphery are turning into a national crisis. Engagement with Khartoum may be the only way to avert another civil war in Sudan, and even that may not be enough.
Although the war in Congo officially ended in 2003, two million people have died since. One of the reasons is that the international community's peacekeeping efforts there have not focused on the local grievances in eastern Congo, especially those over land, that are fueling much of the broader tensions. Until they do, the nation's security and that of the wider Great Lakes region will remain uncertain.
The West is not welcoming Asia's progress, and its short-term interests in preserving its privileged position in various global institutions are trumping its long-term interests in creating a more just and stable world order. The West has gone from being the world's problem solver to being its single biggest liability.
Reviews & Responses
William Bernstein's A Splendid Exchange, Strobe Talbott's The Great Experiment, and Amy Chua's Day of Empire take up the challenge of "Big History" -- and in the process shed light on the real choices policymakers face.
Letter to the EditorPadma Desai
Letter to the EditorAmy Zegart
Letter to the EditorNaazneen Barma, Ely Ratner, Steven Weber
Letter to the EditorTerrence Keeley
Letter to the EditorLouis Fisher, Ryan Hendrickson, and Stephen R. Weissman
Letter to the EditorCoalter G. Lathrop, Scott Borgerson
Letter to the EditorStephen R. Weissman