Conservatives have long argued that most international aid does more harm than good due to its inevitable politization. When food and medecine is shipped to countries controlled by ruthless dictators, like North Korea, it typically gets disbursed through the local power structure of the dictator. This strengthens the dictator's control and influence; it also helps many dictators stave off famine and avoid the fruits of their mismanagement.
International aid organizations have historically rejected this argument. Which is why I was so surprised to see an article in Slate today documenting a prominent aid organization - Medecins Sans Frontiers - stopping the provision of aid because the host country had made it too politicized. That country was...wait for it...the United States.
David Bosco reports in Slate that the recent withdrawal of Medecins Sans Frontieres from Afghanistan is mostly due to anger at the way NATO had politicized its mission:
And that leads to what may be the more important reason for MSF's departure: the perception that humanitarian aid is being politicized in Afghanistan. MSF stated that "the violence directed against humanitarian aid workers has come in a context in which the U.S.-backed coalition has consistently sought to use humanitarian aid to build support for its military and political ambitions." For months, aid workers here have complained that the military is encroaching onto their territory and blurring the line between military and humanitarian action.I'm sure these concerns are well founded. But MSF functions in countries like North Korea, Uganda, and Burma where their aid is politicized by corrupt dictators. I find it interesting that they withdraw from Afghanistan when the U.S. begins to misuse aid, while it never bothers them when Kim-Jong Il does it.
Particularly nettlesome are the Provincial Reconstruction Teams that the United States, Britain, and NATO have established. These teams blend security and reconstruction work in a way that is troubling to humanitarian purists. But it's not just the PRTs; it's also the SUVs: Some coalition soldiers have taken to driving around the country in white Toyota Land Cruisers, aid agencies' vehicle of choice. It's a practice I never witnessed in the Balkans, and the humanitarian community's discomfort is understandable.
And then there were the leaflets. Apparently, U.S. forces dropped flyers in the southern town of Spin Boldak suggesting that humanitarian aid might not continue unless the population helped turn over opposition forces.
All this is anathema to groups like MSF...
Is this plain anti-Americanism or what?