Many of the Postcards from Hell, in fact, simply show popular protests taking place, as though dissent and social demonstrations are themselves signs of state failure. What kind of half-baked political theory is this? Maybe protests are bad for business and troublesome, but for whom exactly? And are we ranking the state or the society? Or both at once?
It baffles us that a U.S. magazine that prides itself on attempting to offer smart, detailed, historically rich analysis of other countries should so rejoice in deliberately rejecting nuance and complexity, offering a single emotive image as the representation of "what living in a failed state looks like." The decision to recycle old photographs (a quick glance indicates that Mozambique's, for example, is from 2010, while Madagascar's is from 2009) suggests that some of these states have stubbornly refused to look sufficiently like failed ones for quite a while. So who loses out when Foreign Policy does something like this? We don't think the answer is as obvious as it might first appear. Another of our readers, Sara Valek, writes, "There is so much more to a country than one photograph. I feel sorry for the people viewing this article who now only have this image in their brains about Mozambique, as opposed to the beauty that I know and love."
The Postcards from Hell also insist that there are no white people in this year's story of state failure -- not even the people of Greece, who are informed -- surely to their incredulity -- that they are living in one of the 40 most stable nations in the world. Egypt is ranked 31st, but nowhere in the account of "just how it came to be that way" is there a mention of the annual $1.3 billion of U.S. military aid (recently reinstated) that continues to complicate attempts to establish parliamentary democracy in the country. European colonialism and the Cold War are scarcely mentioned, yet the reader is somehow expected to form an adequate understanding of the problems faced today by a country like Angola. Is late 20th-century history too far back in the past for Foreign Policy to bother itself with?
Flicking through the Postcards, we can't help wondering what can possibly be gained through this bombastic annual display of geopolitical smugness. Why not choose to be self-critical instead of blithely rubbishing faraway countries every summer?
There will never be a Postcard from Hell that bears a picture of an American street. But what if there were? What would go on there? Might it not apply the very same criteria that condemns much of Africa and lament the deeply corrupt political system that makes legislative progress virtually impossible, inhibits the establishment of truly pluralistic multiparty politics, places the bulk of power in the hands of unaccountable corporations, and offers only the very rich the chance to pursue successful political careers? It might make mention, too, of the baffling lack of affordable public health care, the rapidly growing inequality that can only foment social unrest, or the way in which young men of color continue to be harassed by state police. Maybe we could refer to these police officers as "security forces loyal to the current regime."
Nor must we forget the enduring popularity of capital punishment, the country's ongoing program of extrajudicial detention and killing that proceeds without any substantial accountability, and the nation's vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, which proliferates in shameless contravention of the international commitments made by the United States. America's Postcard might add that, in recent years, its soldiers, humanitarians all, have become notorious around the world for choosing to record footage of the atrocities they commit on mobile devices, in order to share these images with friends and colleagues. It would certainly bemoan the beatings and intimidation meted out to the many Occupy protestors who demonstrated peacefully in American cities last fall. Perhaps the picture could be of the moment last year when a police officer seized a U.C.-Berkeley college professor by the hair and flung her to the ground.