Across Africa and the Middle East, governments and international organizations are paying the price for responding to crises too late. Last week, the continuing spread of Ebola in West Africa vied for global attention with new advances and atrocities in Syria and Iraq by the so-called Islamic State (IS). These were arguably both avoidable disasters.
A more determined international medical effort to contain Ebola when it appeared in Liberia and Sierra Leone at the start of this year would almost certainly have stemmed the epidemic. Earlier Western and Arab military action against IS, perhaps paired with a nasty but necessary deal with the Syrian regime to fight this common foe, might have stopped or slowed its power-grab in Iraq this summer.
There have been “blame games” over both situations. Doctors Without Borders, the NGO that initially raised the alarm about Ebola, has accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of acting too slowly. WHO officials have blamed any shortcomings in the organization’s intervention on years of budget cuts by national governments. President Barack Obama has, meanwhile, engaged in an unedifying spat with U.S. intelligence agencies over their failure to recognize the dangers posed by IS. His critics naturally say he himself is to blame.