Is there an argument for arming the Ugandan government against Kony that isn’t also an argument for arming Hutus against Tutsis in 1992? And if there’s not, shouldn’t that give us pause? And if your reaction to the first sentence was ‘Hu-whats?’, then doesn’t that suggest that you shouldn’t be quite so relentlessly casual in calling for foreign intervention in other nations?
There is a dangerous trend in foreign policy discussion – although to be frank I think ‘discussion’ is an incredibly generous way of describing ‘I saw this YouTube video about a country I almost certainly couldn’t name the ruling party of or locate on a map and am now strongly in favour of giving guns to some people who I’ve also never heard of’ – of favouring the ‘easy’ intervention: that is, of wandering into a killing field, deciding that the side which is either in government or on the retreat is the good one, and handing over a couple of rifles. This is why we now have this frankly farcical dialogue where Libya’s nebulous rebels are the ‘goodies’, but the US Army is always evil.
But actually there is no such thing as a ‘good’ intervention. Even in the best case scenario, you’re taking the risk of sending hundreds, often thousands of mostly underprivileged kids to die miles from home with no exit strategy. You’ve got be willing to stay indefinitely, not do as we’ve done in both Iraq and Afghanistan and signal to the insurgents and extremists that if they hang in there, they can commit whatever horrors they like. Of the interventions that are now seen as ‘good’ in public discourse during the Blair government – Kosovo and Sierra Leone – it’s worth noting that the Balkans region is still going to require indefinite subsidy and support. And that’s when intervention works.
I’m not arguing for the ‘never send anyone anywhere’ argument. Inaction is a decision with consequences too; look at Homs. Look at the Balkans. Look at Rwanda. Thing is, once you get to a point where a government is turning the full might of the state against its citizens, or where ethnic groups are locked in full-on civil war, you’ve gone past the point where there are any choices with ‘good’ outcomes, and are picking between a variety of awful choices, all of which leave a lot of people dead and with the very real possibility that there are no happy endings available. So it’s a decision that should be made with some semblance of research and some attempt to grasp the historical context, not because you’ve watched a video brought to you by some people whose most significant contribution to the East African problem so far is a docu-film that combines the casual cultural insensitivity of a gap year student with the faintly homoerotic love of guns and violence of a Rambo film.
Or, to summarise: for fuck’s sake, the Internet.
The charity ‘War Child’ has posted a must-read response to the Kony 2012 video. It’s available here: http://www.warchild.org.uk/news/kony-2012-our-response