20050418

Could Be and Could Have Been

From today's WSJ (subscription required) two articles about US actions in the third world.
First is an article about US aid to Madagscar:
When the Bush administration invited Madagascar a year ago to apply for aid under a new U.S. program, government officials here came up with a wish list of traditional development projects: a new hospital, more school spending, aid to rice farmers. They even put together a PowerPoint presentation they thought would wow the Americans.

U.S. officials weren't impressed. "Can you convince us that this is going to bring economic growth to reduce poverty?" asked Clay Lowery, a top official with the Millennium Challenge Corp., the overseer of the president's program.

Madagascar's leaders couldn't. So they began meeting with groups across the country, asking where the bottlenecks to economic progress lay. Officials kept hearing the same two complaints from farmers and small businesspeople: They couldn't get formal title to land because of a corrupt and decrepit bureaucracy, and they couldn't get loans because banks were growing fat investing in government bonds.

Today, Madagascar President Marc Ravalomanana will be in Washington to attend the signing of a $110 million, four-year aid package designed to fix those problems. It's the first grant ever under Mr. Bush's Millennium Challenge Account program -- and a test of whether the U.S. has found a better way of delivering assistance.

Second is about the lack of commitment to South East Asia:
Bandung did not start mass murder. But the conference in the eastern Javanese city did subtly begin introducing the worship of the revolutionary as an ideology for the downtrodden in the Third World. This hero worship, shared by many First World intellectuals, made takeovers by communists, whether Khmer or Vietnamese, easier to achieve.

The conference, which met April 18-24, 1955, was attended by representatives of 29 newly independent Asian and African nations, and its context was anti-colonialism. It led six years later to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement, the vast majority of whose members were actually Soviet client states which suppressed their own people.

Not everyone associated with what came to be known as the "Bandung Spirit" was wild-eyed. Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the stars of the show, and while his state-centered economic policies crippled India's quest for economic advance, he was a democrat who believed in political pluralism.

But even in the case of Nehru -- that is, Bandung at its least bad -- the conference gave acceptability to a mushy neutrality that made fighting communism all the harder for the NATO powers. "We do not agree with the communist teachings, we do not agree with the anti-communist teachings, because they are both based on wrong principles," Nehru told the conference. This moral ambiguity tainted not only the emancipated colonies, but also the West, particularly Europe's elites.

Today Natan Sharansky's constant urgings for "moral clarity" and George W. Bush's freedom ethos have crystallized the danger of moral splendid isolation. But back then, faux sophistication sapped Western elites of the will to see the crusade against Soviet imperialism through. The wavering of America's "best and brightest" was mainly responsible for the U.S. defeat, and communist victory, in Vietnam.

The victims of course were primarily Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese. Hundreds of thousands perished when their countries fell like dominoes to indoctrinated and disciplined communists. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, who captured Phnom Penh 30 years ago yesterday, surpassed the others in bloodlust. At least 1.5 million people were killed in a country of seven million in less than four years, and the country's gentle countryside came to be stamped in the popular mind as the "killing fields."

But the regimes of fellow Indochinese communists Laos and Vietnam were by no means benevolent. Following the fall of Saigon, a few days after Phnom Penh, thousands of Vietnamese chose to brave the oceans in rickety rafts to escape. Many paid with their lives. Thousands of others were put in re-education camps, or liquidated.

What else to say today, three decades after seeing what happened in those wretched lands, than that if our elites had had the necessary fortitude, South Vietnam could today be as free and prosperous as South Korea, and Cambodia and Laos might be versions of Thailand. What the past tells us about the present is that romanticism about Third World revolutionaries -- whether in Southeast Asian jungles or Middle Eastern deserts -- should never again distract us from the cause of freedom.

1 comment:

Minh-Duc said...

I wonder what specific did Madagascar offer to improve government transparency. Without specific measure of effectiveness in fighting corruption, pouring money in a country is simply a waste.