Blame aplenty

There is absolutely nothing good to say about this:

A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were to be inoculated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden.

The commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said that the vaccinations would be banned until the Central Intelligence Agency stopped its drone campaign, which has been focused largely on North Waziristan.

Mr. Bahadur said the decision had been taken by the shura-e-mujahedeen, a council that unites the myriad jihadi factions in the area, including Taliban, Qaeda and Punjabi extremists.

The announcement, made over the weekend, is a blow to polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, one of just three countries where the disease is still endemic, accounting for 198 new cases last year — the highest rate in the world, followed by Afghanistan and Nigeria.

I have already lamented the CIA’s decision to employ a physician as an operative in its hunt for Osama bin Laden, and there is no need to repeat myself at length.  That this wholly predictable reaction has come to pass makes me question all over again how just it was for the United States to employ this man in this way to serve our own revanchist foreign policy ends.

However, as many people pointed out when I posted my earlier piece on the main page, it is ludicrous to shift the lion’s share of the blame away from the people who hold positions of leadership in the area.  They are responsible for the welfare of the people they lead, whether or not they recognize this obligation and whether their power was granted or seized.  To hold the health of the children in their region hostage in a benighted attempt at swaying United States foreign policy is monstrous, albeit one just more monstrosity perpetrated by a ghastly regime.  If we as a nation are willing to tolerate (or, more accurately, ignore) when children are destroyed outright by drone attacks, who honestly thinks allowing an indeterminate number to be crippled by a totally preventible infectious disease will make one jot of difference?  This decision by the Taliban et al is stupid oppression at its stupidest and most oppressive.

But of course stupid oppression is what we expect from the Taliban, isn’t it?  They destroy priceless monuments of antiquity for reasons of unfathomable idiocy.  They treat women with gruesome barbarity.  And course they aided and abetted the worst case of terrorism ever perpetrated on American soil.  It comes as no surprise at all that they would treat the health of their children as disposable.

So what then is the use of hopping up and down and condemning them?  What value is there in making sure we apportion blame correctly in a situation such as this?  Given how swimmingly our military endeavors in Afghanistan are going of late, perhaps we should realize that no amount of ire (or good intentions) on our part will effect the regime change we’re hoping for.  I can heap vitriol on the name of Dr. Afridi until I am hoarse, but what good will that do as he languishes in some godforsaken Pakistani prison?

No, the only value in blaming anyone for the tragedy described above is when there is some small chance that somehow a change for the better will come.  The culpability of other parties does not obviate the guilt of the United States in this situation, and it is only the actions of the United States government that we have any hope of changing by decrying their previous missteps.  Whatever the satisfaction that came from wiping bin Laden off the face of the earth, it was not worth the health of hundreds of thousands of children and the persistence of an otherwise eradicable infectious disease.  And calling the Taliban out as monsters will neither lessen our contribution to their ill fortune nor justify making similar mistakes in the future.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

One Comment

  1. Resolved: that all policy makers and high school seniors be made to watch the last 20 minutes of “Charlie Wilson’s War”.

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