Blogs: Paul Pillar

Building on the Syrian Truce

Foreign Policy and Presidential Politics as a Team Sport

Rudolf Hess at Guantanamo

1914 and Aleppo

Political Instability and the Supreme Court Vacancy

Paul Pillar

The corresponding problem in the United States, though alike in kind, has not become alike in degree to those archetypical unstable countries from the Third World—again, not yet. But the trend is in the wrong direction, and those who care about the health of American democracy ought to be worried about that trend. American citizens who do care—and at least as much, those who have been participating in some of the disturbing episodes mentioned above—ought to look at those unstable countries abroad and think the following thoughts.

First, there but for the grace of wise forefathers and other lucky circumstances of America go we.

Second, the critical ingredients of successful and stable liberal democracy are precious, not all that common in the world, and vulnerable to being lost. It may sound oxymoronic but is nevertheless true that political stability is fragile.

And finally, we need to ask ourselves continually what is more important: whatever specific policy issue has gotten people's dander up at the moment, or having a political system—healthy and effective as well as free—that enables us to argue and compete about such issues at all.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Flickr/Architect of the Capitol.