This post is going to be controversial. I give anyone who is reading this fair warning now.
I’d like to discuss the concept of humanitarian intervention in war zones around the world. I’ve mentioned my feelings on the genocide in Syria in a previous post. (Yes, I think the situation can adequately be described as genocide.) I believe humanitarian intervention in Syria in the form of military intervention is crucial at this point since the cruelty and murder of the Assad regime seems nowhere near abating. My thoughts on the Syrian situation are clear. I will elaborate further on those soon. While few people are actively speaking out on the genocide in Syria, a firestorm has erupted in the cyber world in relation to another issue: millions of people have been alerted to the cruelties visited upon Africans by the tyrant Joseph Kony, notorious for his horrific manipulation of children used in his child army. Joseph Kony is a killer and a despot, but I’m shocked that there is so much outrage about him in relation to Bashar al Assad. To be fair, these are two different scenarios. I’m seeking to illuminate the idea that people can get fired up about something via social media, and while this concept is amazing in theory (as with the dissemination of information in the Arab Spring), it also leads to the dissemination of disinformation and an inaccurate, superficial view of foreign conflict.
To begin with, let’s examine the situation in Syria. As I’ve said, I’ve described the situation before in a previous post, and if anyone is interested, he or she can look at my post “A Screaming Syria”. Senator John McCain does a very good job of describing the current state of affairs in Syria in remarks he gave to the Senate floor a few days ago, calling for multilateral military intervention with the U.S. leading. He is one of the few to do so, and in an unequivocal way, making the rounds on television news stations and publicizing his views on Twitter. His speech, which I think should be required reading for everyone can be viewed here: http://mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressOffice.FloorStatements&ContentRecord_id=e460be36-c488-e7de-8c38-64c3751adfce
As Senator McCain mentions in his Senate speech, the United States and NATO intervened militarily in Bosnia and Kosovo when similar situations were occurring. As he mentioned to Anderson Cooper on AC:360 (also one of the only shows to shed a consistent light on Syria), the lack of intervention in Rwanda now stands as a shameful moment in our history. It is a moment when genocide was allowed to occur. I will not get into the politics of that particular event, but even the uninitiated know it was horrific. Surprisingly, the Senator claimed that “nothing in this world is predetermined” in reference to the Obama Administration’s repeated declarations that al Assad’s demise is “inevitable”. Essentially, morality dictates that we do not sit idly by while we cross our fingers and hope that the regime falls, and like he says, even if it does, it make take “a really long time”, causing the casualty count to climb in the process.
An additional consideration that I’m surprised has not surfaced among more politicians (in particular, among Republicans) is that of long term strategic advantage for the United States after the dust settles and the power shifts in Syria. Of course, there is the very real possibility that the ideal will not come to fruition, at least not as seamlessly as we can hope, but as Senator McCain said, we don’t even have a chance if we don’t intervene—and we really can’t afford not to. Put simply, Syria has oil. If we are friendly with the new regime, and the people see us as allies, this will be an important resource for the United States. In addition, Syria and Israel are not exactly friends. This assertion may seem overly optimistic, but if the United States has greater influence in a new Syria, perhaps our country can exercise diplomatic influence in the Middle East, especially between Syria and Israel, which might have an impact on such nations as Egypt to change their attitudes toward Israel. Of course, there is the obvious benefit of challenging Iranian influence in the region. Republicans seem to hate Iran—a hatred befitting the regime, perhaps, but too often directed in a misguided way toward the Iranian people. Perhaps the American relationship with Iran could also become a more positive one as the key Iranian ally of Syria becomes an American ally. NATO would be strengthened, and the role of Turkey would be a robust one. This is also in the interest of the United States. Finally, a multilateral military intervention in Syria would aid in ushering in the new era of 21st century international cooperation. It would prove that the intervention in Libya wasn’t just a fluke, that even if the countries of the United Nations cannot agree to act in favor the moral high ground, other institutions exist that will promote the ideals of security, stability, democracy, and human rights—that international law is not dead, and that bloodthirsty leaders desperate to cling to power cannot act with impunity.
The 20th century was the century of decolonization. It began with the fall of empires after World War I, and ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the final decade of the century. The 21st century has dawned with the fight for human rights for the people in many of those countries in which such rights have not been granted. We should not let the legacy of the Arab Spring falter in Syria.
Now, after that inspiring rhetoric, I want to contrast this movement with that of the #stopkony and Joseph Kony 2012 movements. For the last two days, Twitter has been inundated with trending topics referencing the warlord Joseph Kony. This movement has spread to Facebook and other social media and aggregate sites. Many people have linked to a video about Joseph Kony on the YouTube page of Invisible Children, a nonprofit organization who launched the campaign against Kony. The stated aims are to find Joseph Kony somewhere in Uganda or central Africa—it’s not quite clear since no one knows where he is at the moment—and bring him to justice. This is a worthwhile aim, but the Invisible Children campaign is not necessarily the right tool to use to do so.
Invisible Children mainly raises awareness. This is fantastic, but does not solve the problem. Millions of young Americans can tweet all they want, but how many actually understand the complexities of child armies in Africa? How many have even heard of the L.R.A? And how many have done any research into Invisible Children, except to watch the half hour promotional video put out by the group? As the sites I will link to explain, Invisible Children supports another Ugandan group that also uses child soldiers, that rapes and loots, and engages in unspeakable horrors in much the same way that Kony’s groups have. Invisible Children feels that this group is the best tool to find Kony. What kind of message does this send? That evil can fight evil? An eye for an eye? This kind of military action is very dangerous, and as one of the sources explains, retaliatory action has been taken when American forces have intervened militarily, and anything involving child soldiers is “messy”. Another fear is the racial and cultural element in that many people don’t understand the plight of rural Africans. This is not to say intervention is never necessary or that Joseph Kony should not be made infamous. As I stated before, the Rwandan genocide is a classic case in which military intervention in Africa was necessary and should have been undertaken.
Sources Skeptical of Invisible Children:
Invisible Children has many questionable practices, but has been made famous by bands such as Fall Out Boy in previous years and has now spread due to social media. I think that most people who spread the message are pure of heart and many want to be part of a larger movement to feel like they are making a difference in the world. This is commendable, though, Invisible Children and the entire Kony movement may not be the best way to go about solving the problem. The lesson that should be taken from this movement is that now that people are informed, brainstorming about a better way to end the kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of children, as well as other members of African communities, can begin. Some people, it seems, just want to jump on the bandwagon and get involved in the latest trend. As one source said, sometimes doing nothing actually is better than doing something, if that something breeds more destruction.
Why is it that Syria has not garnered the same fevered attention as the Joseph Kony movement? There may be several reasons for this. There is a clear plan of action that can be taken in Syria, right now, with the aid of other countries within a reliable framework. The same cannot be said for the search for Kony in Africa. I urge humanitarian aid in Syria and a closer look at the Invisible Children-sponsored movement. Invisible Children has become very visible, while the idea of intervention in Syria has been nearly invisible.