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Preemptive Action’s Bright Side

Andrew C. Thomas

In all conflict, combatants must decide whether to take immediate, decisive action or patiently wait for an adversary’s move in order to justify a counter-response. The doctrine of pre-emption, seemingly embraced by the Bush administration, suggests that the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” may prove to be beneficial on the stage of global affairs, as evidenced by the recent recalcitrance of Libyan nuclear ambition, among other things.

Don’t be so quick to think this is going to carry over to other areas. The administration’s vision for the future is surprisingly short-sighted. After all, the inability to properly deal with the current insurgency was a failure of foresight by the Pentagon and White House.

I often wonder if this zeal for early action were applied to other areas of policy, how much our children would thank us in 30 years. After all, if we had heeded the warnings of intelligence agencies even ten years ago about the rise of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, people contend that we would have averted tragedies like the Sept. 11 attacks.

Government must be in the business of today and tomorrow (and, with running debt, the business of yesterday as well). There are very few issues on the table that require no foresight to keep going. Military issues aside, there are far too many other causes in the country and abroad that are screaming for a huge dose of foresight.

You might want to read the recent New York Times columns of Nicholas Kristof, one of the few voices today bringing attention to terrible conditions for black Muslim refugees from Sudan, facing the threat of genocide from Janjaweed militants backed by the Sudanese government. Forget the fact that we’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, though it’s been a potent reminder to some. Thinking even in the greediest, most opportunistic terms, isn’t it hugely in America’s best interest to lead an international effort -- even going it alone, if necessary -- to win back the respect of the international community?

Oddly enough, this sort of situation is exactly what the Bush Doctrine purports to handle, yet somehow it is flying under the radar. Maybe it’s because of the lack of a strong Africa lobby -- or, if you like, the lack of oil revenues -- but it almost looks as though this situation fell right out of the Wolfowitz mould. The Janjaweed are also a Muslim group; greater awareness of this tragedy, and of preventive military action on behalf of the “free world” would be more difficult to botch now, especially with the lessons learned from the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia, though the risk must certainly be worth it.

Until that time, we are forced to sit back and listen to the silence of the world, too preoccupied with infighting and political squabbling to make a genuine difference and save real lives right now.

Knowing all that we do, having gutted the merits of pre-emptive action to the core, why is it so tough to see that this sort of spending is beneficial in the long run, and often much sooner? The underfunding of No Child Left Behind, a supposedly strong educational initiative at the federal level, has much vaguer ramifications in the very long run (compared to the extreme short-term benefit of saving lives) but should still not be ignored. No tool has been better proven to improve the quality of life than education, in terms of crime, teen pregnancy, or affluence. We have the benefit of the most meritocratic society in recent history, and we cannot risk a decrease in the middle class in this hemisphere by failing to empower ourselves with the greatest weapon known to man.

Maybe it’s crude of me to compare the extreme and urgent need to combat genocide with the long-term but urgent goal of sustaining education. However, in the long run, there would be no better device to prevent massive tragedy than the eradication of the strongest plague our planet knows: ignorance. It infests breeding grounds across the planet, and can only be destroyed through the intellectual empowerment of the people. Why is it that, with few exceptions, the worst and poorest societies always have the worst literacy rates? In the end, an imbalance of knowledge leads to an imbalance of power, too often with tragic ends.

When people begin to think forward in time, wonderful things tend to happen. There is no greater blunder than to fail to correct one’s past mistakes; negligence and lack of forethought should never fall under that category.