My biggest lesson from community nonprofits is equally relevant to wars and nation-state stability: you're only as strong as your weakest link
In today's coverage of the latest stage of Iraq's ongoing civil war, the articles discuss (1) how Shite leader al-Maliki is more focused on political control and boxing out Sunni Muslims; (2) the Sunni Muslims are fed up and responding; and (3) the military is weak, poorly organized, and uncommitted to al-Maliki.
I worked in a start up community development corporation but most of us weren't from the neighborhood but committed to being engaged and helping. Our strongest link to the neighborhood was a person who had stability issues. The group fell apart when he turned on us.
And in Brookland, the "Community Development Corporation" there had a board that was uncommitted to being truly engaged with the broader neighborhood, so they lacked standing. The Main Street commercial district revitalization program crashed and burned as a result. (Although the neighborhood has other issues about consensus, organizing, intra-neighborhood power relations etc. that are equally vexing and equally contribute to failure.)
From both cases, I learned that in such situations, you're only as strong as your weakest link. And if you rely on your weakest link for credibility and standing, the likelihood of failure is high if not almost certain.
I laughed when I read a quote by Senator John McCain in the Washington Post:
what is transpiring in Iraq represents a 'colossal failure of American security policy.'I imagine that Sen. McCain is referring to the last couple years, and if so, it's an example of how an extremely short time frame for considering issues puts us at a severe disadvantage in terms of achieving success.
The failure in Iraq started in 2002* (really the late 1980s), when the US invaded the country, not only on faulty intelligence and provocations, but without a deep understanding of the dynamics there and how to address them, that the issue wasn't so much starting a war and achieving military success but how to rebuild a nation so that it can be stable. Without that as the primary goal from the outset, the effort was doomed.
* The failure in Iraq started in the late 1980s/early 1990s, when the US supported Iraq in a war against Iran, which the US saw as a way to exact retribution against Iran after the fall of the Shah.
FWIW, I wrote a great paper my sophomore or junior year in college on religion and religious zealotry as a unifying force in nation-state change, destabilization, and revolution, applying the experience of the rise of messianic Judaism in Poland in the early 1600s to Iran during and after the rule of the Shah.
So you could argue that the failures in Iraq and Iran started in 1953, when the CIA fomented a coup (oil...) against the leftist prime minister of Iran and installed Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as the Shah, leader of the country. He lasted until 1979...
Which is but another example of how maintaining access to cheap oil to support automobility and sprawl has a variety of costly consequences.