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Hunting the LRA

[ 71 ] October 16, 2011 |

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.

Comments (71)

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  1. I…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

    .

    I suppose ‘pissing into the wind’ is a sort of hobby.

  2. Jason says:

    Wow, since when did you join the ranks of the liberal interventionists, Rob? This R2P approach is a really, really bad idea. It’s not our fight, it’s not in our nation’s interests. Our big emphasis for AFRICOM was supposed to be assistance, not combat support. This will all end badly, but hey, as long as the Clintonestas feel better having done nothing for Rwanda and the Sudan and Somalia.

    • Pinko Punko says:

      Sorry but the rhetoric here is confusing. If all intervention is cynical make up for previous f*** ups, then the argument for any intervention is undercut. Please advise when the council on liberal intervention indicates that we have our next Rwanda.

    • xaaronx says:

      “Although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice and assistance to partner nation forces,” Obama said. “They will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense.”

      From the linked Danger Room article. If you don’t believe this to be true, then that is one thing. But if this goes as described, then it is exactly what you seem to think would be okay.

    • Robert Farley says:

      I don’t fetishize either a realist or a liberal internationalist perspective; this seems to be a low cost operation with some meaningful chance of doing good.

      • McWyrm says:

        Of course, if the DFHs vocally opposed it we could skip all this nuanced wonkish crap and just jump on the bandwagon. Amiright?

        • No.

          We are going to take a reality-based approach and decide the merits of cause based on the particular facts of the situation.

          We’ll leave the gut-checking and groupthink to the people who think that knowing the name Mossedegh relieves one of ever having to think before deciding whether an intervention is ethical and wise.

          • FHD says:

            If I may presume to speak for the DFHs, the problem with this is that *you* aren’t the one who gets to decide which interventions are just and which aren’t. The US Government, or really, the US President, is. And maybe you think that’s fine under Obama, but roughly half the time that’s going to be a Republican. The question isn’t really whether it’s possible to pick out the good interventions from the bad, but whether our actual political process is going to consistently get that right.

            What I’d really like to see is for the barriers a president has to face before doing this sort thing to become much higher. That would likely mean fewer “good” military actions as well as fewer “bad” ones, but that looks like a pretty big net positive to me.

            • That is just an atrocious level of reasoning.

              • FHD says:

                Why? Use small words, please.

                • Because taking a fairly germane observation and turning that into an argument for a blanket position of not doing anything to be on the safe side really doesn’t make a lot of sense in its own right, but also has some pretty obvious problems if turned into a broader worldview. For example, if progressives take that line on military intervention (and I’m being a bit generous in ceding that characterization in this case, I think), isn’t it only fair for conservatives to take the same stance on, say, regulations of business?

              • FHD says:

                Because taking a fairly germane observation and turning that into an argument for a blanket position of not doing anything to be on the safe side really doesn’t make a lot of sense in its own right

                Except I didn’t argue for a “blanket position of not doing anything.” I said we’d likely get better results overall if there were more restrictions on the President’s power to send troops overseas, even if that makes it harder to intervene in cases like this.

                For example, if progressives take that line on military intervention (and I’m being a bit generous in ceding that characterization in this case, I think), isn’t it only fair for conservatives to take the same stance on, say, regulations of business?

                It’s perfectly “fair,” it just happens to be wrong. It depends on your estimation of the expected costs and benefits of business regulation versus military intervention, as both are actually practiced by the US government. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that even our imperfectly implemented system of regulations causes more good than harm. Our military track record over the past 60 years or so inspires less confidence.

      • Tom Hilton says:

        this seems to be a low cost operation with some meaningful chance of doing good.

        Which is a consistent theme of Obama’s foreign policy: taking opportunities where limited, multilateral action has the potential to do a lot of good.

        • …with the exception of the wars he inherited, yup.

          He consistently plucks the lowest-hanging fruit.

          Don’t think we should stage commando raids into sovereign countries without their permission? What if it’s Osama bin Laden?

          Don’t think we should involve ourselves in other countries’ politics? What if it’s an oil dictator slaughtering an Arab Spring youth movement by the thousands, and the UN passed a resolution?

          Don’t think we should provide military assistance to countries in Africa? What if it’s 100 advisors helping a democratic Uganda end the Lord’s Resistance Army’s reign of terror?

          In the abstract, there are arguments to be made against each of these types of operations. In practice, the choices Obama has made makes it damn hard to argue them.

    • Jason I presume thinks we should have done nothing to prevent the Rwandan genocide even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Is that correct Jason?

      • Jason says:

        Yes, actually. Exactly what should we have done? Sent in five divisions to deal with the tens of thousands of tribal atrocities? The time to do something is before it erupts, with diplomacy and economic aid. But many states in Africa are too complex and too corrupt to “fix” with any US power. So leave your good intentions at the door before this 100 person “advisory” force turns into a 10,000 “stabilization” force.

        Some people have no memory.

        • Sent in five divisions to deal with the tens of thousands of tribal atrocities?

          The Dutch forces on the scene say they could have virtually halted the killing within a week with a couple of battalions.

          This was quite widely reports. Some people, indeed, have no memory.

        • So leave your good intentions at the door before this 100 person “advisory” force turns into a 10,000 “stabilization” force.

          How’s that American occupation force in Libya working out, Nostradamus?

        • Who’s trying to “fix” what? They’re sending in advisers to assist in trying to capture a warlord and defeat his militia. Even if the size of the force does increase at some point if necessary…then what?

    • It’s not our fight, it’s not in our nation’s interests.

      I see people who consider themselves leftists and humanitarians write things like this a lot.

      Since when did making our national interest the defining element of foreign policy – as opposed to values and morality – become a humane, progressive, moral stance to take?

      It sounds more like Kissinger to me.

      • The one that really bugs me is “There’s nothing in Libya/Uganda/Insert poor, developing-world country here that’s worth the life of a single American soldier.”

        That’s just racist twaddleknockery. What if we can save tens of thousands of human lives, like we did in Libya? One American is worth more than how many Libyans? Where’s the conversion table? Hanging in David Duke’s living room?

        • At least from a formalistic standpoint, this seems like the sort of thing the left shouldn’t necessarily have a huge problem with. Congress has authorized action, it clearly comports with international law, and there’s not even a tricky issue of choosing sides between actors of dubious character like the Libyan situation. It’s just a straight forward and fairly limited action with the clear and well defined goal of stopping some obvious bad guys from committing crimes against humanity.

          It’s very disheartening that the anti-interventionist left has essentially degenerated to the point of being barely distinguishable from Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan.

  3. poicephalus says:

    So you are in the TBogg camp, Dr. Farley.
    Usually a good place to be.

    C

    • The prophet Nostradumbass says:

      I found it quite funny to read some of the comments complaining about TBogg engaging in ad hominem insults.

      • Pinko Punko says:

        Since he does engage in that, it frees me up to mention that while he has some good lines, he can also be a cobag- wait sometimes bad guys are overweight and maybe ugly?

        I will take my grandpa pants and go home. Tbogg has the whiff of emu about him.

        • Atticus Dogsbody says:

          whiff of emu?

          Please explain.

          • Pinko Punko says:

            Basically, he’s a chunderloaf. Too often he’s in total emu land. “Hey conservative fatty, bet you get lots of dates!’ That sort of very flightless nuisance bird cobaggery.

            • Marc says:

              Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe…

            • Seitz says:

              It’s funny. If I wasn’t fluent in Pinko, this paragraph would make absolutely no sense to me. Fortunately, it’s like a second language to me.

            • Atticus Dogsbody says:

              If you say so. I should point out that, in general, emus are not considered pests (a small child who has just opened a bag of chips while visiting a nature reserve inhabited by emus may beg to differ).

  4. DrDick says:

    I would say my overall view here is cautious hope with a side of skepticism regarding motivations and seasoned with reservations regarding possible mission creep and further over extension of our already stressed military. Eliminating the LRA would unquestionably be a good thing if we can help get it done and just get back out.

  5. Pete Mack says:

    I actually don’t see what’s controversial about this mission, and to a lesser extent the Libya mission. Obama campaigned on this kind of foreign policy. It was no accident he chose Susan Powers as a senior FP advisor.

    It’s the expansion of the Afghan mission and the continuation of Bush’s legal stance against individuals that I find disturbing.

  6. Pete Mack says:

    Damn it, I meant Samantha not Susan..

  7. CashandCable says:

    I am in complete agreement with the commentary about the highly centralized and charismatic nature of Kony’s leadership. I studied some of the literature on the LRA a few years back while working on a paper about child soldiers. The LRA has always been a notorious “employer” of child soldiers, which is significant b/c child soldiers are often used by insurgent groups that cannot muster sufficient support from among the adult population. In some ways, I think that Kony’s leadership style and organization is closer to Warren Jeffs than the Taliban.

    One issue that I have not seen thoroughly discussed is the possibility that US advisors or their local liaisons will engage child soldiers in the field. The optics there could be unpleasant, although the effectiveness of child soldiers in other African conflicts shows that they must be treated as normal combatants (up until the moment they are rescued, at which point they become something else entirely).

  8. I see that Dayen’s post is titled “White House Starts a Mini-War in Africa,” and that there is much worry among the FDL commentariat about the expansion of the unitary executive even though the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 explicitly authorizes “political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters.”

    It’s … it’s … I don’t know, it’s almost as if there’s something … unreliable about that post. Unpossible, I know.

  9. Randy Paul says:

    Nice to see that the FDL crowd is on the same page as Limbaugh, albeit for different reasons.

    Sheesh,

  10. Merits of the mission or lack thereof…good Jeebus was Dayen’s post a total joke. Good to see FDL continues to devolve into self-parody unmolested.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, that was a go-to destination for a lot of us Liberals.

      Then, Jane jumped the shark (snark?) with Grover.

      Now, I only check out TBogg, but I do it on his site. He still gives me plenty of laughs.

      • Then, Jane jumped the shark (snark?) with Grover.

        I hope it doesn’t say anything too horrible about me that my first thought, upon hearing that there were Tea Party counter-marches to OWS, was Jane’s argument about the Tea Party being an anti-corporate movement.

    • Yeah, how actions authorized by ex ante acts of Congress increase unilateral presidential authority is unclear.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        It’s clear to them – it’s ALL that damned Obama’s fault!

      • elm says:

        But…but…but, Dayen is still waiting for Feingold to return his call to tell him what he really intended his bill to mean! Because original intent of the sponsor trumps clear-meaning of the text, apparently.

        • elm says:

          ANd I see in his update (thanks Linnaeus!) that it doesn’t matter now what Feingold says: because Obama said he was taking this action “pursuant to [his] constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations,” the action, whether or not authorized by law, is increasing the unitary executive.

          Leave aside that he also said that he was doing this “in furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy” and that he was informing Congress “keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.”

          One could reasonably ask a hypothetical question of “Would Obama have done this anyway without the 2009 law and, if he had, would that represent an increase in the unitary executive?” But that’s not the world we live in.

          • Tom Hilton says:

            I’m trying to figure out if Dayen is actually trying to say the President doesn’t have “constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations”. Because that would be…what is the word?…oh, yeah: completely fucking insane.

  11. Linnaeus says:

    In case folks are interested, Dayen has posted a response to the criticism leveled against him over the weekend.

  12. Tom Hilton says:

    Ohferchrissake…Dayen is still trying to pretendhe wasn’t completely full of shit:

    I contacted Russ Feingold’s organization late last Friday, and haven’t heard back from them, on whether they believed that the law in question, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, authorized Friday’s action, particularly on whether it would stand in as a war powers authorization. I’m perfectly willing to believe that it does, and the fact that nobody in Congress – all of whom voted in favor of the law originally, by voice vote – has made much of a stink about what Obama did on Friday leads me to think that they at least don’t think it’s worthy of arguing about.

    But it’s worth pointing out that the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act is something of a red herring here. Because as Jack Goldsmith pointed out, if you read the letter from the President closely, he writes that he took action “in furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy,” but he derives his specific authority for the action “pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.” So this intervention, in the theory of the President, could have been done without the consultation or Congress, and without any legislation backing up the action. He used Article II authority for it.

    So, y’know, even though it might be authorized (no really, Feingold is getting back to me any day now…), it’s actually totally unauthorized because Obama uses his authority as President to order it instead of saying…well, who the fuck knows what?

    Jesus…this is just sad.

    • It ought to be at least as hard to get your hands on a subjunctive verb form as a handgun…

    • Well, that’s an incredibly easy argument to dispose of:

      Obama cited Article II to authorize him to conduct foreign policy. The legislature directs or authorizes the executive to carry our a certain policy, and then the executive goes out and actually implements, executes, or conducts that policy.

      Congress declared war on Germany, Japan, and Italy. The President then used his Article II powers to determine the conduct of the war.

      • This is a good point, but even more basic than that: the President clearly does have a good deal of authority to conduct foreign policy (leaving warmaking to the side for a moment) under the Constitution. That a President who disagrees with you might conduct policy you don’t approve of doesn’t mean they inherently lack authority.

        • Tom Hilton says:

          That a President who disagrees with you might conduct policy you don’t approve of doesn’t mean they inherently lack authority.

          Or, to put it another way, it’s not a good idea for liberals to adopt the GOP standard.

        • Tom Hilton says:

          And as I said in the FDL thread: if the President doesn’t have authority to conduct foreign policy, that’ll come as news to the State Department.

  13. Oh good God:

    “I think the precedents for a President Cain are worth thinking about here. It’s a hop and a skip to attacking Iran based on “my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive,” in terms of the precedent.”

    Um….no. Not at all. Well, not if you possess even a modicum of critical thinking skills and can formulate something of an argument beyond shouting “slipper slope!!!!!”

    In all seriousness, Dayen basically just made the liberal equivalent of Santorum’s argument that we couldn’t let teh gays marry because then how would we keep people from having polygamous marriages with ferrets and blow up dolls.

    Christ.

    • Add to your analogy the postulate that gay people have been marrying each other legally for the past century.

      Seriously, “setting a precedent?” Obama is “setting a precedent?”

      That horse has left the barn, run across the field, hopped on a bus, gone to the city, attended college, held a series of increasingly-responsible positions within the IT field, met a nice palomino, gotten married, bought a historic barn and renovated it with granite countertops and radiant heating, and retired to spend more time helping kids.

      Whether Obama does or does not send 100 SOF d00ds to Uganda will be of absolutely no influence on whether President Scary Republican Guy authorizes military action in ten years. None.

      • Hogan says:

        I remember an excerpt from a legal decision that said one of the parties was trying to unring a bell around the neck of a horse that’s left the barn on a ship that’s already sailed.

    • FDL Underpants Gnomes:

      1) dispatch 100 troops to counter LRA
      2) hop and a skip
      3) bomb and invade Iran!

    • Anonymous says:

      I say in the TAPPED post, to paraphrase Jerry Langford Obama is originating a policy that Jefferson initiated more than 200 years ago. How this constitutes a new precedent I can’t tell you.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      “I think the precedents for a President Cain are worth thinking about here. It’s a hop and a skip to attacking Iran based on “my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive,” in terms of the precedent.”

      Please…as if a President Cain (God help us all) would give a rat’s ass about his “constitutional authority” before saying “bombs away.” There are legitimate concerns here, but that isn’t one of them.

  14. Scott Lemieux says:

    Above was me…

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