Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Healthcare and Afghanistan: 2 Problems, 1 Solution

Healthcare and Afghanistan. We’re on the eve of history for both issues. In fact, they very well could ultimately define the Obama administration. And as different as they are, the approach to bettering both might be more similar than you think. Prevention.

In healthcare, prevention leads to longer, healthier living, at a fraction of the price. This is well documented. But less agreed upon – or even much discussed – is that the same can be applied to national security. That is, the more sustained goodwill we pour into a country, among its people, the more we prevent a costly disaster, in lives and resources, at their hands in the future.

Can you imagine if the US had continued its assistance to Afghanistan in the late '80s after the Soviets withdrew? That is, continued attention, financial and otherwise, not on guns, but on roads and schools and good governance? The Taliban would not have been able to flourish in that environment. Al-Qaeda would not have found safe haven there. 9/11 would not have happened.

And in cases where the US has actually pursued preventionist policies, the outcome has been positive. We see it in parts of eastern and southern Africa as well as Indoneisa.

As we’ve written in this blog before, channeling Bill Clinton: “We can be made more secure by eliminating inequality…. 10-20 countries in eastern and southern Africa… many of them Muslim… love the US.” This, at a time when the US has lost significant credibility internationally. In these countries, nobody has been thinking about Al Qaeda. Why? Because “we have cared whether their kids live or die.” Clinton is referring to America's generous African policies under Bush (that is, America's pledged financial support in the fight against AIDS and other diseases).

Across the ocean into Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, ill-will towards America had reached alarming proportions in 2005. America’s approval rating was 38%. But after the tsunami, American assistance and goodwill blanketed the country, driving the approval rating up to 60%. In the same period, Osama bin Laden’s approval rating went from 58% to 28%.

With such drastic shifts in poll numbers, you can bet that bin Laden’s recruiting efforts amongst the world’s largest Muslim population suffered a major blow. We can only imagine how bin Laden might have gone from salivating over Indonesia as fertile ground for his network to perhaps averting it altogether. Can you imagine if the same thing happened in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia or Sudan?

If prevention has proven effective and less costly (in the long term) than the alternatives, then why don’t we do it? We’ll offer some perspective on that in part II of this entry (in the coming days). But for now, let’s turn our attention to what Obama says tonight about Afghanistan. Might prevention play a role in his plan?

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