Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I was reminded of that phrase when I was reading some of today's headlines.  Much of what is going on now was the result of good intentions but without regard to their long-term result.

Let's begin with George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States who was on duty that fateful day of Sep 11, 2001.  Bush 43 appears by all accounts to be a linear thinker, meaning he sees things as black and white.  He saw the attack as reason to go after those who would do evil to the United States.

He would coin the phrase "Axis of Evil"to refer to three specific nations that he felt posed the greatest threat to the United States.  The three countries were of course Iraq, Iran and North Korea.  By extension, that made their leaders "enemy number one".  Osama bin Laden still had a starring role in the "Axis of Evil" even though he was not the leader of a nation.  Bush's phrase was a way of stating that "the United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." (Time)  Good intentions but without regard to long-term consequences (despite Colin Powell's continued warnings) created what we are dealing with today.

Iraq was the first on the list to be targeted with Saddam Hussein being chased out of Baghdad, captured and hung.  Mission accomplished, except now 11 years after his capture and almost 3 years after the US troop pullout, Iraq has spiraled out of control with ISIL ready to create the first Islamic State.  The shortfall of linear thinking is you tend not to think beyond the immediate result.

Hussein was an evil dictator who brutalized anyone who was not Baath party.  A unintended consequence of his brutality was it stabilized relations amongst the Kurd, Shiite and Sunni populations. Once Hussein was removed, there was no one to stop old rivalries to flare up.  But Bush wasn't concerned about what would happen after the war, he was convinced the threat posed by Iraq warranted any actions to take out Hussein.  Iraq is broke and may never quite get back together without further bloodshed.  But fear not for we are no longer under the Bush Administration.  Or are we?

Obama ran on a platform that he would not follow in Bush's footsteps.  Had people thought about that a little more, that platform simply meant he was going to be more ruthless.

Obama promised he would get the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  He did pull the troops out of Iraq, which actually exacerbated the situation created by his predecessor.  He also increased the number of troops in Afghanistan to help what he termed "the forgotten war".    The "surge" actually did do anything towards finding Osama bin Laden or making America safer (Cincinnati has such a heroing epidemic that it is now issuing police and EMS personnel with Narcan, an antidote for heroin overdose).

Obama has proven to have an even itchier trigger finger than Bush 43.  Obama authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki (who was still a US citizen when a missile found him).  Even Bush 43 couldn't get either of those guys.  With those two notches under his belt, a Obama and his right-hand gal Hillary set their sights on another "Axis of Evil" member; Iran.

I've written much about Iran already.  For the purposes of this entry, Iran has enjoyed a rich history as the Persian Empire.  They have a great history of science, mathematics and art.  Oil has given Iran tremendous wealth and prosperity.  Despite these achievements, Iran doesn't have a place at the table so to speak (as do China, Russia, India and Israel).  The one missing piece?  Nuclear weapons.

Obama and Hillary Clinton tried every imaginable way to pressure Iran into giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Of course, this misses the point of why Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons in the first place.  They need those weapons if they ever hope to be respected as an international power.  Come on you might say, look at Germany and Japan.  They don't have nuclear weapons but they are world powers.  True, but the better comparison is India and North Korea.  India is still a very poor country overall and North Korea is ridiculously backwards.  Yet both are countries the West has to reckon with since they have nuclear weapons.  Iran is not poor nor backwards by any stretch of the imagination, yet they lack respect as they are a Muslim nation.  Attaining a nuclear capability is the only way to achieve respect in their minds.

Of course there is the whole Tehran Embassy thing from 1979.  The US and Iran have never been warm towards one another since.  It seemed for a brief moment that Iraq would allow both sides to move past that, alas Israel's massacre of Hamas seems to have close the cracked in the door.

Obama and Hillary went looking for another dictator to shoot and found one in Muhammar Qaddafi.  The Arab Spring had shown how vulnerable Qaddafi has become after 41 years of viciously oppressing any opposition to his rule.

Even though Libya's Muhammar Qaddafi avoided being on the original "Axis of Evil" list, it did not stop Obama and Hillary Clinton from sanctioning his execution as well.  Qaddafi's execution was done though via proxy of NATO but of course what is NATO without the US?  Obama solemnly intoned about the death of Qaddafi that "One of the world's longest-serving dictators is no more," he said. "The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted" (Huffington Post)

Perhaps but the aftermath of Qaddafi's death hardly seems worth it.  Thousands of Libyans have died and the US lost an ambassador.  Libya is worse than it has been in some time and the world is no safer without Qaddafi.  The press has vilified Qaddafi and he certainly was no Sister Theresa.  Nevertheless, Libya enjoyed an immense level of wealth thanks to producing nearly 2% percent of the world's oil.  The Libyans are some of the most literate people on the planet and built a huge water pipeline into the Benghazi region.  It was Qaddafi's plan to turn Libya into a self-sufficient, giant oasis.  Good intentions by the US without thought to the long-term implications.

Good intentions are without thought to long-term implications are why we are very likely to see an outbreak of Ebola.  By racing into to "help" the people of Africa, who are after all unable to handle this crisis in the eyes of the West, the virus is getting a chance to do something it has never done before.  Instead of a localized epidemic, Ebola may finally get the chance to become pandemic.

The African people, as did the Native Americans and other first people, understood the need to keep their settlements small and far away from one another.  It prevented outbreaks from spreading.  A flu or other virus would burn itself out in one village and be done.  Western cultures embraced large settlements to maximize commerce and agriculture opportunities.  The downside of the Western model is an outbreak has a much greater opportunity to spread as was the case with the plague.

The West, full of good intentions, has rushed into Africa with the intent of curing the incurable.  The attitude that Western medicine knows best has caused the doctors to forget the basic knowledge of how diseases spread and bring ALL of the infected patients together into hospitals.  Yes, this is where they can get the best care but it is also the best place for Ebola to spread.  Healthy people such as family, friends and health workers now are exposed to an intensive level of the disease.  One slip up means death and risks the spread of the disease.

No wonder the Africans think the doctors are trying to kill them.  In a way, they are.  In their quest to save lives, the doctors are actually killing more people (including themselves).  No, there is no good solution to the problem but bringing everyone together in the same hospitals is a recipe for disaster.  Good intentions without thought to long-term implications.  All it will take is one person getting ready to leave to be exposed, board an aircraft, and infect the entire aircraft.  It may take days before health officials even catch what is going on but then it will be too late.

Good intentions to make the world safer are fine but we need to be smarter about the effects of pursuing this course of action.  The Western (read US) view of the world is not the only legitimate view.  We need to recognize that other views may be just as relevant for different parts of the world.  Now if we can just the folks in the White House to read this stuff and actually think about it.

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