On return from his recent reporting trip to Africa, Nick Turse told me the following tale, which catches something of the nature of our battered world. At a hotel bar in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, he attended an informal briefing with a representative of a major nongovernmental organization (NGO). At one point, the briefer commented that just one more crisis might sink the whole aid operation. He thought she was referring to South Sudan, whose bottomless set of problems include unending civil war, no good prospects for peace, impending famine, poor governance, and a lack of the sort of infrastructure that could make a dent in such a famine. Nick responded accordingly, only to be corrected. She didn’t just mean South Sudan, she said, but the entire global NGO system. Given the chaos of the present moment across the Greater Middle East and elsewhere, global aid operations were, she insisted, on the brink. They were all, she told him, just one catastrophe away from the entire system collapsing.
I have to admit that as I watch the civilian carnage in Gaza; catastrophically devolving Iraq; the nightmare of Syria; the chaotic situation in Libya where, thanks to militia fighting, the capital’s international airport is now in ruins; the grim events surrounding Ukraine, which seem to be leading to an eerie, almost inconceivable revival of the Cold War ethos; not to speak of the situation in Afghanistan, where bad only becomes worse in the midst of an election from hell and the revival of the Taliban, I have a similar eerie feeling: just one more thing might tip this planet into… well, what?
And then, of course, I read Nick Turse’s second report from Africa, up-close-and-personal from South Sudan. It’s another place the U.S. chose as one of its special (un-)nation building projects and has seen it go to hell in a hand basket on a continent parts of which seem to be destabilizing as we watch. Now, I find myself wondering whether just one more disaster, one political or military catastrophe, might push us all over the edge of… well, who knows what?