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Hunting the LRA

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A few brief thoughts on the Kony mission.  David Dayen:

The Administration’s claimed legal justification comes from a law called the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, originally sponsored by Russ Feingold. Human Rights Watch were among the endorsers of the bill. I’m not sure this is what they had in mind.

On the other hand, Tom Hilton thinks that this is precisely what Feingold and HRW wanted when they supported the legislation. Fortunately, I have Tom Malinowki of Human Rights Watch right here:

We believe that the addition of a small number of capable and experienced specialized forces to this regional effort – possibly provided by France, which has a military base in the Central African Republic and is a member of the International Criminal Court, with logistical and intelligence support from the U.S. – could make a difference the next time Ugandan or Congolese troops encounter the LRA leaders. We see this as a law enforcement operation, in the sense that the primary objective should be to capture Kony and others wanted by the ICC and deliver them to justice. We also recognize that lethal force is sometimes necessary in law enforcement operations when there is an imminent threat to life, and that this is a possible outcome, given the nature of this group and of the terrain where it hides. Meanwhile, we have also urged a broader strategy to protect civilians in communities at risk, rescue abducted children, and encourage defections from the LRA. To this end, we’ve suggested the deployment of more UN peacekeeping troops in the area (over 17,000 are already deployed in the Congo, but fewer than 1,000 are in LRA-affected areas.)

As the good Doctor notes in the comment thread to Hilton’s post, “given the US’s history of imperialist interventionism, some knee-jerk skepticism makes sense.” I would further suggest that while the construct “imperialist interventionism” is a touch broad, the general history of US intervention provides very good grounds for substantial skepticism about any given intervention, regardless of assessments about motivation. In other words, we should approach any proposed intervention from a skeptical and critical perspective. However, I think it should also be fairly obvious that “skeptical and critical perspective” is not the same thing as asserting that any given US intervention is motivated by desire for the acquisition of oil/gold/tungsten/rare earths/oil/oil pipelines/oil, etc. This is a bit of a caricature, but unfortunately only a bit; in some commenting communities on leftish blogs, expressing the view that a given intervention might not be about oil inspires an avalanche of brutal criticism. I (among others) have argued at other times that progressives need a more robust vocabulary for thinking about intervention, but that’s a larger issue that deserves its own series of posts.

On the merits of the deployment itself, I’m cautiously hopeful. As many have pointed out, Kony is a serious problem, and thus far no one has demonstrated both the interest and capability for solving the problem. US forces may not be able to find/help the Ugandans find Kony, but it’s a relatively low-risk deployment. People familiar with the issue seem to think that killing or apprehending Kony himself, as well as the senior elements of the LRA, would result in the collapse of the organization; unlike the Taliban, it does not have a broad base of societal support, and unlike Al Qaeda is lacks a substantial transnational network of supporters. Things could go terribly wrong; US forces might accidentally kill a group of civilians, or wander into an ambush, or provoke the LRA into even more brutal behavior, etc. But then things might also go right, and since the status quo is pretty bad, I’m hopeful that the US intervention will improve things.

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