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Remaking the case for humanitarian intervention abroad.
November 25, 2008 7:20 PM   Subscribe

From The Economist (remember who they endorsed recently?): What Congo Means for Obama.
posted by allkindsoftime (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Has there been any talk about bringing Samantha Power into the Obama administration? She's been very eloquent on these issues.

Or is she out, now that State is going to be run by a monster?
posted by mr_roboto at 7:44 PM on November 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


I am so afraid that under the current economic crisis, countries like DRC will be forgotten.
posted by gman at 7:48 PM on November 25, 2008


The Somali Pirates might make the world focus on stabilizing Africa. If theres one thing that pisses everyone off its stolen oil.
posted by Glibpaxman at 7:57 PM on November 25, 2008


...or stolen Main Battle Tanks.
posted by Mephisto at 8:00 PM on November 25, 2008


I hope Obama declares an International Speak Like a Somali Pirate Day.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:09 PM on November 25, 2008


Given our economic situation and our debt, doesn't anyone think that recalling whatever we can of the military and trying to run it as cheaply as possible for a while might be a good idea? It's not like Western intervention in Africa has a good reputation for creating long-term, positive change.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:22 PM on November 25, 2008


Though it'll make the John Bircher contingent (and those like them who don't call themselves that) squeal like stuck pigs, if anything calls for a cooperative international effort it's this. This shouldn't be an American intervention or necessarily even an American-led one and it's shouldn't be presented as such.

And while we're on the subject, isn't China trying to present its involvement in Africa as beneficial and benign? Now would be a good time for them to show it, and given their cash reserves balance it's not like they couldn't afford it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:33 PM on November 25, 2008


A sane deployment of troupes in a multilateral, UN sanctioned effort?
sounds good to me.

fuck, this is why I've been paying taxes to fund our gigantic fucking "defense" department.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:09 PM on November 25, 2008


Has there been any talk about bringing Samantha Power into the Obama administration?

WE HAVE CHASED THAT POISONOUS MONSTER AWAY FROM OUR PUBLIC DISCOURSE!
posted by homunculus at 9:12 PM on November 25, 2008


"A sane deployment of troupes in a multilateral, UN sanctioned effort?
sounds good to me."

You'd think so. But Somalia wasn't so much...although it was UN sanctioned.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:50 PM on November 25, 2008


Isn't the Economist editorial in favour of just about every new war and intervention? They supported the invasion of Iraq too. It would be interesting to see if the editorial also supported bombing Iran.

The Economist's editorial also supports frequent changes of president and tend to endorse a candidate from the opposite side to who is in the Whitehouse. They thought Clinton should resign.
posted by sien at 11:57 PM on November 25, 2008


What should the world’s strongest and (still) richest country do when famine or conflict strike places whose own governments will not or cannot help, where America has no direct interest, but where averting a humanitarian disaster may require military intervention?

I'd add that we're talking about a conflict that's been on-again, off-again for the past ten years, causing a total of at least 5.4 million people. It's sickening that we'd just sit back and watch this happen. Especially when the conflict revolves around something that could actually benefit the entire region - coltan, a mineral used in cellular phones, DVDs and computers, is plentiful in east Congo. Business Week has said that your cell phone probably doesn't have "conflict coltan", and I'm not trying to call for a boycott here. My point is that the area is rich in minerals which could benefit the entire region. Actively and aggressively negotiating an end to fighting between the warring factions, with the use of force if necessary, could benefit the entire continent.

Why should we? Because we could have a huge impact with comparitively little effort, and should we wait for another 5 million to die, another 10 years to pass, before doing something, anything?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:13 AM on November 26, 2008


"causing a total of at least 5.4 million deaths" rather
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:16 AM on November 26, 2008


...or stolen Main Battle Tanks.

Nah, that one is like application piracy. They don't allow it but they don't stop it because it creates a trained user base and contracting & parts sales opportunities. Just like the way they have student discounts for RPGs in africa.
posted by srboisvert at 1:52 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why should we? Because we could have a huge impact...

Mostly consisting of unintended consequences.
posted by Faze at 4:41 AM on November 26, 2008


Mitrovarr - there are exceptions. Sierra Leone's current peace is due largely to the Brits facing down the RUF back in 2000 or so.

An engagement in the Kivus with a mandate which could take military options off the table for the armed factions would, I think, be A Good Thing. The problem is (in increasing order of difficulty) making it happen, managing it correctly, and making it sustainable. The last in particular is really hard - the peace process after the Sun Accord in the DRC co-opted the factions into the government, but was too top-heavy to work and was quickly dominated by President Kabila. It's a matter of constructing a sustainable political settlement which at the same time leaves open room for institutions to grow and ensures state legitimacy. International troops can help make the environment for that, but state-building has to be an endogenous process.
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:50 AM on November 26, 2008


Uh, this article doesn't mention the causes of the current situation and the politics in the region, yet calls for intervention. This brings to mind the last few wars: Operation Iraqi Freedom, the reengineering of the Afghan society to remove the oppressive Taliban rule and Kosovo, which did not only bring safety to Albanian Kosovars and end the ethnic cleansing, but also involved an unopposed backlash against the Serbian Kosovars, the bombing of a country and a drug dealer becoming head of a new one.

There are many places that need help and many of them need help because of long-standing policies, not because of the temperament of the current president. Making a show over how much we care for Africa while pressing for free markets where we can and subsidising our agricultural sectors, constantly diminishing the importance of the U.N., supporting tinpot dictators as long as they are useful and discarding them later.
posted by ersatz at 6:48 AM on November 26, 2008


The Congo has twice the population of Iraq and four times its land area. A fair amount of the latter is jungle. And the social breakdown of the state there is miles beyond what was the case in Iraq when we invaded (hell, it's miles beyond where Iraq is now). I am quite certain that a population which is already sick to death of nation-building isn't going to support a new round in the middle of Africa.
Not to mention that the war is hardly restricted to the Congo itself, and therefore neither could an intervention.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:55 AM on November 26, 2008


I thought the main reason Democrats won this election was because they promised to end the war in Iraq. How then is intervening in the Congo fulfilling the promise of Obama's administration? The U.S. military's ground forces are already stretched thin which is one reason Russia felt confident invading Georgia, not that I exactly blame them after the silly provocation the Georgian president gave them. We should be very wary of getting ourselves into another war in a region we don't understand. Besides, didn't we send our best Thompson gunner to help out the Congolese years ago?
posted by Tashtego at 7:08 AM on November 26, 2008


AdamCSnider, I agree. Militarily speaking, the Congo is worse than Vietnam or Iraq. The conflict is happening in the remote eastern interior. There are no roads to speak of from the coast, dirt tracks. Mountainous jungles. As big as half the continental USA. No clear borders between states right in the middle of dozens of other conflicts in Sudan, Uganda etc.. If Africa had a "Heart of Darkness" it would be the Congo interior. There is a reason commanders go feral there. Nothing is stopping them. Nothing can stop them. I see this conflict continuing for decades there are so many factors.
posted by stbalbach at 7:11 AM on November 26, 2008


Samantha Powers is a great writer, speaker, teacher and adviser but I don't see her being a good politician. At least not know, she needs a few more years.
posted by stbalbach at 7:13 AM on November 26, 2008


I thought the main reason Democrats won this election was because they promised to end the war in Iraq.

I don't know why you thought that. I think for most voters it was somewhere on a very, very long list of reasons.

How then is intervening in the Congo fulfilling the promise of Obama's administration?

Because "intervening" can take many forms other than a fraudulently justified invasion, occupation, and a massive giveaway of treasury dollars to well-connected corporations?
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:15 AM on November 26, 2008


Clearly, the war in Iraq was a major reason for Democratic gains in the midterm election. I think it also helped Obama in the primary that Edwards and Clinton had both voted to authorize the war and while there were many reasons to prefer Obama to McCain, a major difference was that Obama promised to bring home most U.S. tropps within 18 months whereas McCain talked about staying in Iraq for decades. A U.N. sponsored, multinational intervention in Congo might succeed but if the U.S. bore the lion's share of the cost, especially the casualties, it would wreck Obama's administration and the democrats chances in the next election.
posted by Tashtego at 8:00 AM on November 26, 2008


Your link doesn't go anywhere. In any event, Congo is not Iraq, the reasons for doing it would not be Iraq reasons and there's no reason to suppose that such an effort would be conducted in even a remotely similar way.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2008


Sorry about that link. Try this. I agree Congo is not Iraq, but my point in bringing up Iraq is that though Americans tend to rally around the flag when the president the troops in after a while people begin to question why we are involved in other people's problems. In Desert Storm and Kosovo the public perception that there was a wide international consensus and sharing of the cost of war muted criticism. Intervention in Congo is likely to be long term and costly in lives and money. It would keep a lot of soldiers occupied if another crisis came up and this is something Obama criticized about our occupation of Iraq.
posted by Tashtego at 10:14 AM on November 26, 2008


Samantha Powers is a great writer, speaker, teacher and adviser but I don't see her being a good politician. At least not know, she needs a few more years.

I don't think anyone's talking about her being a "politician." The most obvious position would be some kind of foreign policy adviser.

(I assume you're talking about Samantha Power -- I don't know who Samantha Powers is.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:03 PM on November 26, 2008


George_Spiggott, as stalbach and I noted above, the differences between Congo and Iraq are not of the kind which would make people in this country more willing to intervene in the former, but rather less.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:24 PM on November 26, 2008


Mostly consisting of unintended consequences.

You'll notice I included the use of force if necessary - that is, I don't consider it the only option. After 10 years and 5 million deaths, all sides of this conflict have been showing wear and tear. The whole reason why this has been on-again, off-again is because everyone's exhausted. "Intervention" is a word that's been sullied over the past eight years. In the Congo's case, it can and should mean an active diplomatic effort to get everyone to the table and working out a deal that would please everyone. So far, diplomatic efforts haven't been that full-hearted, letting individual parties push and shove for mineral resources. Now, I think, is the time for a concerted international effort to give all sides the chance to stop fighting, save face, and be able to share the enormous resources the country has.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:05 PM on November 26, 2008


“There are many places that need help and many of them need help because of long-standing policies, not because of the temperament of the current president”

All well said. I don’t understand the argument that it’s wrong to try to kick the world into the shape you want it to be in going into Iraq. But it’s ok to kick the world into the shape you want it to be in if your intentions are good. Nation building is a damned dicey business and military force - if it’s an option at all - is only a small component of it.
(refutation aimed at the economist, not comments here)

“Besides, didn't we send our best Thompson gunner to help out the Congolese years ago?”

Yeah. He really lost his head tho.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:37 PM on November 26, 2008


"You'd think so. But Somalia wasn't so much...although it was UN sanctioned."

Back at a Model UN conference a couple years ago, I ended up on the Security Council with a guy who had served in the Navy in Somalia, and who was pretty bitter about it. According to him, the biggest problem was that when Bush sent in the troops, there was no clear operational mandate, which he said effectively neutered the effectiveness of the forces. He held that the military forces there, especially the US, are really good at going in and taking out "bad guys," but really bad at simply trying to keep the peace, especially when local politics hamstrung their ability to remove actors that were actually responsible for the violence. He compared the forces to an arrow—great for hitting things, hard to fight when on route, but absolutely useless and easy to break when just sitting around.

This was in the winter of '03, and he pretty accurately predicted the trouble that we'd have in Iraq, though he thought that we could have Saddam out of there in 24 hours if we wanted (we'd just be absolutely shitty at the nation-rebuilding part).
posted by klangklangston at 4:45 PM on November 26, 2008


Oh, and c'mon, that Thompson gunner was from Norway. Of course he couldn't hack it.
posted by klangklangston at 4:49 PM on November 26, 2008


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