Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Enough with the whining already!

I have no doubt that those who volunteer to risk their lives saving other less fortunate souls in desperate conditions around the world are sincere in their convictions. And I applaud their selflessness and bravery.

But they honestly and truly need to take a real assessment of the effectiveness and limitations of their NGO efforts.

Because, to me, Dr. James Orbinski's remarks sound an awful lot like a bandage complaining loud and long that it's not being allowed to do its job of stopping a patient's bleeding, while ignoring the fact that the surgeon is elbows-deep in the patient trying to repair the cause of the bleeding in the first place.

I've written about this more comprehensively in the past, and will continue to play whack-a-mole with it whenever the need arises. But what I said then still applies:

While Dr. Watson raises some troubling issues regarding the mechanics of our aid to Afghanistan, the key flaw to his overall argument rests in his remarks above. He's proud of having worked in Taliban Afghanistan. On one level, of course, he should be: individual CARE workers certainly did good work, and at significant personal danger. But on a strategic level, what did his group change? Despite their best efforts, CARE could not prevent Afghanistan from sliding further and further into state-sponsored brutality, oppressive ignorance, and abject poverty.

What the NGO's seem to have difficulty accepting is that they were a band-aid solution in Afghanistan prior to the overthrow of the Taliban. The systemic change required for fundamental improvement in the lives of ordinary Afghans necessitated a military intervention. Whether we can translate the specific military victories achieved in the early days of that intervention into a sustainable long-term victory across all of Afghan society remains to be seen. But the one certainty is that, for all the good they do, the NGO's could not have created this opportunity.

It absolutely astounds me that NGO's will work with the most cruel and despotic regimes in the entire world in order to deliver aid to the most wretchedly unfortunate people in the world, but they won't swallow their pride, or ideological objections, or whatever, and learn to work with their own militaries to do the same good work in other situations. We've been sending troops in to deal with humanitarian disasters, peacekeeping and stabilization situations for decades now. You'd think the NGO's would have figured out that sometimes the military is going to be a part of their operating environment, and learn to deal accordingly.

Suck it up, people.


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