I’ve been keeping one eye on articles on Joseph Kony and the 2012 brouhaha, so I thought I’d pull them all into one post with excerpts. I’ve read more than this, and there are plenty of others out there. But these are the ones that I think are the most insightful and helpful.
Until the underlying problem — the region’s poor governance — is adequately dealt with, there will be no sustainable peace. Seriously addressing the suffering of central Africans would require engagement of a much larger order. A huge deployment of peacekeeping troops with a clearly recognized legal mandate would have to be part of it. Those forces would need to be highly trained, have an effective command structure, be closely monitored, and be appropriately equipped with sophisticated surveillance equipment and helicopters, among other things. It would require a long-term commitment and would be targeted not only at chasing the LRA. Moreover, it would make the protection of the local populations a key priority. Finally, the deployment of such a force would need to have emerged from concerted efforts in international diplomacy — including with the African Union, the United Nations, the ICC, and governments in the region — not as a knee-jerk reaction to the most recent media splash.
This is an important point because “Kony 2012″ has painted Joseph Kony as a monster. He has undoubtedly done horrible things that deserve punishment, but the narrative of IC ignores his early support in Uganda. His actions have not always been frowned upon by the people of northern Uganda. He didn’t arise out of nowhere. He was viewed as a freedom-fighter before becoming known primarily as a terrorist. As Christians we believe that terrorists, like the apostle Paul, are not to be vilified even as we hold them to the standards of justice. According to IC Kony is “the bad guy,” not unlike Darth Vader in Star Wars (according to a young child). This justifies his destruction, and it’s highly likely he would meet a similar fate as Osama bin Laden if IC’s recommendations are pursued. We remember the joy in another of God’s creatures killing after that event and Kony 2012 may be laying the seeds for another moment of raucous celebration at a tragic event.
First, we encourage you to sustain the deployment of U.S. advisors until the LRA no longer poses a serious threat to civilians. While regional governments are primarily responsible for the protection of their own citizens, the presence of U.S. advisors in the region is enhancing cross-border information flows, providing valuable guidance for regional military operations, and provoking an unprecedented level of political interest in what has historically been a neglected crisis. Though no serious gains have been made in reducing the LRA’s threat to civilians in the months since the advisors were deployed, reports from LRA defectors – and data showing a marked decrease in LRA attacks in the second half of 2011 – indicate that heightened U.S. and international interest may nonetheless be deterring the group from committing large-scale attacks.
The reason I’m writing this all out is that these are the sort of nuts and bolts questions that need to be asked around any military deployment. War kills people, and the use of the military should be a matter of necessity. IC appear to perceive military force as some sort of silver bullet – pull the trigger, solve the problem, walk away like Clint Eastwood. It never has been, and it never will be. If IC want to see the expansion of US military activity, then they should say so. That should be the debate – “Dear Obama, please spend $X million dollars on these activities…”, if not, then they’re selling their supporters the idea that their campaign can change things that it can’t. More than that, if they are serious about selling a military intervention, then they need to be upfront about the risks as well as the possibilities. If they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to military matters then they should remember their medical ethics before arguing for military action – “First, do no harm.”
Third, and perhaps most important: Crowdsourcing intervention. Russell has picked an easy target: Joseph Kony. Why stop there? More to the point, if this works, will it ever stop? Will simplistic explanations of long-running wars, delivered in a Facebook-friendly manner become the future of foreign policy? If the opinion of Rihanna and George Clooney is going to dislodge ‘technocrats’ who do things like read the Military Balance, then what’s to stop intervention in Syria? Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in military affairs says “that is a very bad idea and lots of people will die” but I’m pretty sure that a bright person with access to youtube can come up with a better argument for a brighter world in which taking Assad down is an expression of democratic empowerment. The point about war and military affairs is that at some point, it requires restraint. That restraint is entirely arbitrary (and unfair) but it stops people getting killed. If Angelina Jolie in combination with Condoleeza Rice are to dictate American strategy, then restraints to force will disappear into a blur of “Let’s go get the bad guy” activism that is almost entirely ignorant of the second and third order effects of those decisions.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.