. . . Tuesday April 6, 2004

Of Self Interest and Learning from Rwanda

Clinton in the WP: “I hope that the international community will continue to learn from our mistakes in Rwanda in 1994. We need to improve our intelligence-gathering capabilities, increase the speed with which international intervention can be undertaken and muster the global political will required to respond to the threat of genocide wherever it may occur. But the lessons from Rwanda in 1994 pertain not only to future crises; they also apply to Rwanda today. In helping Rwanda confront the specter of HIV-AIDS, we all have an opportunity to move decisively and to stop a second national tragedy.”

It’s difficult to base a foreign policy strategy on altruism. What we have learned in the past few years is that our actions or inactions can have a very real impact on the quality of life and the level of security here at home. Self-interest is has always been a popular motivator. We should do what we can to fight the world’s biggest problem – the spread of AIDS in Africa – because it’s the right thing. But we should also do the right thing because it is in our best interests not to allow entire societies to be pushed to the brink of disaster.

Similar strategies should be considered in the so-called war on drugs. We are the consumers. We create the demand. We made it possible for drug lords to emerge as points of extreme power in several countries to our south. And now the war on drugs is being fought in those countries, often amid poverty, hopelessness and collapsing institutions. Think the next generation of kids in these countries will be having a lot of positive feelings about the U.S.? Are you sure you are out of the reach of those feelings?

Addressing these issues is not merely a matter of right and wrong. It’s ultimately a matter of self-defense.

Concentration is important!