A little bit less than 1,900 people died as a result of Hurricane Katrina, all but two of them in the New Orleans and southern Mississippi region. Yet the landfall of a cyclone in Yangon, Myanmar, which has killed over 10,000 people, is competing for headline space here in the states with continued hand-wringing over a fifteen-year-old girl holding a towel over her chest, a monster in Austria, the suicide of a brothel operator, inconclusive scientific data masquerading as ‘medical news’, and rich techno-nerds fighting for control of internet content filtering companies.
Not on any of the major news outlets’ headlines are any stories about the war in Iraq. Does this mean that we’ve achieved victory there? If the situation is stable enough that we can worry about other things, isn’t that sort of what we were shooting for? About eighteen months ago, I defined victory in Iraq as:
Success is when Iraq is 1) reliably within the political and economic orbit of the West; 2) internally stable enough to support economic growth and pay us (and the British, Aussies, Italians, Poles, Canadians, and Spanish) back for all the money we’ve spent on them; and 3) strong enough to defend itself from Iranian or Syrian encroachment. Failure is any of A) political domination by Iran or Syria; B) emergence of a control group hostile to the West, particularly to the United States; or C) a bloody stalemate draining lives and money to no geopolitical effect (otherwise known as the status quo).
If we have enough time to worry about other stuff like natural disasters, sex scandals, and isolated if horrific crimes, then are we sufficiently far enough away from failure outcome C, and close enough to the confluence of success outcomes 1-3 inclusive that we can credibly say that we’ve achieved a satisfactory result? Or is this just a function of our news media’s vapidity?
The Wife asked me over the weekend, how do you sort out all of the bad stuf in the world to keep up with the news? She’s right that there’s an overwhelming amount of terrible stuff going on out in the world. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by it all. The answer is, for me at least, you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to be most concerned with and keep your focus on that. For me, I think that’s (in broad terms) the rule of law.
I also think it’s worthwhile, once you accept that you can’t solve all of these kinds of problems yourself, to focus instead on the people who can, and to the extent that they can. So it’s important to look at who those people are, how they make decisions, and what kind of power they have to implement those decisions. The President of the United States, for instance, has a great deal of power to do good in the world. The President can try to send aid to Myanmar, for instance. And we can do something about who makes that decision, and what kind of power that person will have to implement those decisions.
But you can’t come across stories like ten thousand people dying — especially when they’re already the victims of a brutal military dictatorship in their own homeland — and not feel some basic human empathy.