I think it’s beyond refute to say the U.S. has a spotty record of “success” when it comes to intervening in humanitarian crises. Intervention comes too late, haphazardly, in the wrong ways, through the wrong channels, with too little oversight, etc.
There is just such a crisis brewing now in Pakistan, where the government is in the process of asserting its authority and rooting out extremists in the region of the country which heretofore has largely existed outside its purview. Between those who were displaced amidst intense fighting last fall and those who have been displaced since the most recent round of fighting commenced two weeks ago, there are now approximately 1.5 million who have fled their homes. According to the UN, it’s the largest displacement since the Rwandan genocide.
In politics, as in life, it often seems the flipside of crisis is opportunity. This is no exception. The stability of Pakistan is vital to U.S. national security interests. To that end the U.S. has already pledged aid to help displaced persons, but we need to follow that aid and not just write a check and washing our hands of it. Effectively assisting in relief efforts will provide a rare opportunity to be seen in a positive light — an unusual role for the stars and stripes in that region of the world. Does this mean, “death to America,” will never be uttered again? Hardly. But under the broad umbrella of public diplomacy, this is a chance to build some modicum of goodwill (or at least a more neutral ambivalence, should “goodwill” seem to ring of pie-in-the-sky idealism).
Additionally, if executed properly, the allocation and distribution of aid could be used as a tool to help cement the relatively new political reality of civilian rule throughout the entire country. Eventually, most of these 1.5 million people will venture back to the towns from whence they came. What will they find when they get there? If the answer is total destitution and isolation with little provision of government services, we’ll once again have a breeding ground for the kind of parallel state structure one sees with Hizballah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza — government ineptitude providing a vacuum for extremist organizations to fill. If, however, the civilian government is seen as capable of establishing some sort of order throughout, it will go far in debunking the cause of those who would promote a return to military rule or embrace extremist ideology in governance. Key to all of this, of course, is exercising a great deal of oversight and prodding of Pakistani leadership to utilize U.S. aid in a manner conducive to those ends (desirable for both parties, but not always self-evident in a fractious, variably corrupt, nascent democracy such as it is).