ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Bat Man in International Policy

Mark Steyn's Action Stations ties Bat Man with the ineffective multilateralism that has plagued tsunami relief, Kosovo, and transformation in Afica. A little free trade and some real, honest to goodness action would go a long way.

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A couple of days later I read that Oxfam had paid the best part of a million bucks to Sri Lankan customs officials for the privilege of having 25 four-wheel-drive vehicles allowed into the country to get aid out to remote villages on washed-out roads hit by the Boxing Day tsunami. The Indian-made Mahindras stood idle on the dock in Colombo for a month as Oxfam’s representatives were buried under a tsunami of paperwork. Aside from the ‘tax’, they were charged £2,750 ‘demurrage’ for every day the vehicles sat in port.

This was merely the latest instalment in what’s becoming a vast ongoing Tsunami Tshakedown Of The Day retrospective — you can usually find it at the foot of page 37 in your daily paper, if at all. Fourteen Unicef ambulances sent to Indonesia spent two months sitting on the dock of the bay wasting time, as the late Otis Redding so shrewdly anticipated. Eight 20ft containers of Diageo drinking water shipped via the Red Cross arrived at the Indonesian port of Medan in January and are still there, because the Indonesian Red Cross lost the paperwork. Five hundred containers, representing one quarter of all aid sent to Sri Lanka since the tsunami hit on 26 December, are still sitting in port in Colombo, unclaimed or unprocessed. At Medan 1,500 containers of aid are still sitting on the dock.

The tsunami may have been unprecedented, but what followed was business as usual — the sloth and corruption of government, the feebleness of the brand-name NGOs, the compassion-exhibitionism of the transnational jet set. If we lived in a world where ‘it’s what you do that defines you’, we’d be heaping praise on the US and Australian militaries who in the immediate hours after the tsunami struck dispatched their forces to save lives, distribute food, restore water and power and communications.

Instead, a fellow Quebecker of my acquaintance sneered, ‘Can you believe those Americans? A humanitarian disaster strikes and they send an aircraft carrier!’ Er, well, yes. Because for large-scale humanitarian operations it helps to have a big boat handy. It seemed unlikely to me that even your average European politician would utter anything so fatuous in public, but Clare Short came close. The sight of Washington co-ordinating its disaster relief efforts with Australia, India and Japan outside the approved transnational structures was too much for her. ‘This initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to co-ordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN,’ she told the BBC. ‘Only really the UN can do that job. It is the only body that has the moral authority.’

Whether or not it has ‘moral’ authority, the UN certainly can’t do the job. It becomes clearer every week that Western telly viewers threw far more money at tsunami relief than was required and that much of it has been siphoned off by wily customs inspectors and their ilk. If you really wanted to make an effective donation to a humanitarian organisation, you’d send your cheque to the Pentagon or the Royal Australian Navy.
[...]
The passionate hostility of Miss Short and co to action — to getting things done — is remarkable, but understandable. Getting things done requires ships and transport planes and the like, and most Western countries lack the will to maintain armed forces capable of long-range projection. So, when disaster strikes, they can mail a cheque and hold a press conference and form a post-modern ‘Task Force’ which doesn’t have any forces and doesn’t perform any tasks. In extreme circumstances, they can stage an all-star pop concert. And, because this is all most of the Western world is now capable of, ‘taking action’ means little more than taking the approved forms of inaction.

For example, I’d be far more amenable to criticism of American policy in Iraq if it weren’t being levelled by the same folks — notably Do-Nothin’ Doug Hurd — who fiddled transnationally while Yugoslavia burned. Bosnia is, in fact, everything the anti-war crowd predicted Iraq would be: 250,000 people were killed, which is what the more modest doom-mongers estimated would happen in Iraq, and that’s 250,000 out of a population a fifth the size of Iraq’s. We were told that toppling Saddam would do nothing but create thousands more radical Islamists across the Middle East. In fact, it’s Bosnia where, under the nose of its EU viceroy, Wahabist infiltration is recruiting tomorrow’s jihadi. Week after week, we’ve seen sob stories on the TV news in which some hapless Baathist clerk from the Department of Genital Severing reveals that he’s been out of work now for two years, but when was the last time you read a piece on unemployment rates in Paddy Ashdown’s Bosnia? It’s officially 45 per cent, and it’s only the drug-dealing, child sex and white slave trade that boom around every UN mission that’s holding it down that low. However Iraq turns out, it’s already a hundred times healthier than Bosnia, and its effects are rolling on through Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But because Bosnia is the quintessential expression of international lack of will, it will always get a better press than Bush’s ‘war for oil’.
[...]
Anyway, the 2002 initiative was called ‘NEPAD’, pronounced ‘kneepad’. And not having heard a thing about it in the three years since a Canadian G8 official triumphantly handed me the press release, I wondered how it was getting on. Well, there’s an official report on ‘NEPAD’s Achievements In The First Three Years’, but even on a close reading it’s kind of hard figuring out what’s actually happening:

‘On the development front, the African leaders launched comprehensive studies covering conflict resolution, political, economic and corporate governance, education, health, science ...Official Direct Assistance (ODA) reforms ...debt cancellation ...foreign direct investment....’

Gotcha. They launched ‘comprehensive studies’ of a lot of things. And why did they do that? ‘The primary objective was to develop a comprehensive development framework based on a thorough understanding of the most up-to-date information and trends in each area.’

Terrific. So they launched comprehensive studies to develop a comprehensive development study for holding meetings on developing more comprehensively a framework for studying the development of further meetings. So comprehensively did they do this that in 2004 the NEPAD secretariat overspent its seven-and-a-half million-dollar budget by more than two million dollars. Still, I’m sure the taxpayers of Finland, who chipped in half a million bucks to NEPAD’s ‘communications and conferences’ bill, ‘travelling costs’, ‘corporate services’ and other expenses, enjoyed the delicious frisson of ‘doing something for Africa’.


Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler