Friday, March 09, 2012

Having US troops in Uganda supporting the homophobic, theocratic government there is a really bad idea

Raven Brooks at the Netroots Nation site holds up the apparently stealth-Christianist "Kony 2012" campaign run by the Invisible Children group as a model of effective online marketing techniques for political activism: Raven Brooks, The anatomy of Kony 2012 03/09/2012.

Is this what we have to look forward to at this year's Netroots Nation, uncritical praise for a propaganda campaign to promote American intervention in yet another country with which we are not officially at war? According to the news reports this week, the Obama Administration has already sent 100 Special Forces troops to central Africa somewhere to hunt Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) cult.

I'm all for learning from the techniques of others, even those of dubious causes. But the cause can't always be cleanly distinguished from its marketing. In this case, the Kony 2012 viral marketing success is in promoting a call for US military intervention. As Adam Branch asks in Kony 2012 Won't Change the Lives of Ugandans Dissent Online 03/09/2012, "how often does the U.S. government find millions of young Americans pleading for it to intervene militarily in a place rich in oil and other resources?"

The fact that so many American young people latched on to this call for more military intervention is a sad though not entirely surprising reminder of how the lessons of the Iraq War needs to be more widely understood. That war, too, was justified by humanitarian and democracy-promotion slogans along with the manufactured claims about non-existent "weapons of mass destruction". American advocates of war against Islamic countries are invariably seized with humanitarian concern about the victims of repression and the rights of women in countries where they want the US to bomb and kill thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. Anyone who actually believes that the results of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been primarily humanitarian ones really, really wants to be deceived.

Casually advocating for war is irresponsible, no matter what cause is used to justify it. I'm wondering if the notion of war as a necessary evil is outdated, even though American Republicans and far too many Democrats no longer see war as evil, but as a good and virtuous thing. Maybe it's better to think of war as evil, though in rare cases unavoidable. War is always, always a failure of statecraft. Even though every country will happily claim that it was a failure of statecraft by the Other Side.

Branch reminds us:

Invisible Children is a symptom, not a cause. It is an excuse that the U.S. government has gladly adopted in order to help justify the expansion of its military presence in Central Africa. Invisible Children are "useful idiots," being used by those in the U.S. government who seek to militarize Africa, to send more and more weapons and military aid, and to build the power of military rulers who are U.S. allies. The hunt for Joseph Kony is the perfect excuse for this strategy—how often does the U.S. government find millions of young Americans pleading for it to intervene militarily in a place rich in oil and other resources? The U.S. government would be pursuing this militarization with or without Invisible Children—Kony 2012 just makes it a bit easier.
Too strong? White House spokesperson Jay Carney
yesterday praised the viral-video campaign against Kony.

Geoffrey York reported for the Globe and Mail in Obama sends U.S. troops to capture Lord’s Resistance Army chief 11/14/2011:

The latest U.S. military adventure, the deployment of 100 troops to Central Africa to hunt for a notorious militia commander, is provoking cheers from human rights activists and befuddlement from many others.

President Barack Obama, who announced the move on Friday, said the U.S. troops would be combat-equipped but would serve as advisers to African armies and will not fight unless attacked. Their mission is to help capture Joseph Kony, infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a fanatical militia that has killed an estimated 30,000 people over the past two decades. ...

The LRA moves in heavy jungle and small villages in the remotest corners of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. The U.S. troops will be authorized to operate in all of these countries if their governments agree. ...

Laura Seay, an Africa expert at Morehouse College in Atlanta, said the U.S. troops will face huge problems: language barriers, difficult terrain, lack of roads, and the likely use of human shields by the LRA. She described Mr. Kony as a "brilliant tactician" who uses a system of scouts to warn him of any threat. But despite the risks, the mission is worth trying, she said. [my emphasis]
York reports this week in Invisible Children's Kony campaign goes viral just as Lord's Resistance Army is dying 03/09/2012:

The attacks by the LRA in Congo this year are “the last gasp of a dying organization,” says Mounoubai Madnodje, spokesman for the UN peacekeepers in Congo.

“They used to control villages and take hostages,” he told the Reuters news agency. “Right now it looks more like people trying to survive. … It’s small-scale attacks.”

The LRA perpetrated massacres of civilians in Congo in the Christmas period in 2008 and 2009, but more recently those attacks have been halted. In the second half of last year, its attacks began to decline dramatically.

The Pentagon has spent about $40-million on the anti-LRA mission since last October, deploying 100 military advisers to help the four African armies in their hunt for the LRA.
He adds, "while the Ugandan military has been heavily involved in the hunt for the LRA over the past few years, it also has been widely criticized for human rights abuses including rape of women and looting of mineral resources."

Christopher Goffard reports in Video on Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony sparks an uproar Los Angeles Times 03/09/2012:

In October, Obama sent a 100-man special-forces team to Uganda with orders to train the country's military to pursue the Lord's Resistance Army and specifically to help it capture Kony.

Three other countries in the region — the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan — are receiving U.S. aid for their help in the effort and the American troops are also now employed in those countries. Pentagon officials insist the U.S. team is not conducting its own operations to capture Kony. "They're there to train and advise the Uganda military," said Lt. Col. James Gregory, a Pentagon spokesman.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested the team would not be withdrawn soon. "They've only been in for a couple of months, and we consider them a very important augmentation of our effort to help the East and Central African countries with this problem," she said.

Next month, Invisible Children plans a "cover the night" event to dispense T-shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers and buttons in major cities, in part to pressure Washington to maintain its limited troop presence.

Mamood Mamdani, a Columbia University professor who has studied the region, said some Ugandans worry that the video could actually trigger further bloodshed. "We all know that the inevitable result of military activity is that civilians get hurt," he said, cautioning against the influence of "millions of well-meaning and well-intentioned but ill-informed people." [my emphasis]
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