The Pentagon reported last week that it was scaling back its decade long mission to hunt Joseph Kony of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Kony’s fighting force has dwindled to around 100 soldiers operating in small groups in the borderlands of South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic.
A Trump administration spokesman was quoted in the New York Times saying that the “LRA has never attacked U.S. interests, why do we care… I hear that even the Ugandans are looking to stop searching for him, since they no longer view him as a threat so why do we?”
The Obama administration in 2011 began deployment of 150 Special Forces and spent an estimated $780 million dollars in the hunt for Kony, a warlord estimated to have abducted 20,000 children to use as soldiers, servants and sex slaves.
The anti-Kony operation helped consolidate the military alliance between the United States and Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled that country since 1986.
It was championed by an odd mix of conservatives like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and liberal interventionists like Susan Rice, a national security adviser and US ambassador to the UN under Obama and her successor, Samantha Power.
Power spoke before Invisible Children, an evangelical Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) which promoted the Kony 2012 video broadcasting images of Kony’s crimes in the hopes of eliciting public support for a military campaign.
The Christian right has promoted missionary efforts in Uganda and supported Museveni’s government which passed stringent anti-gay laws and has served U.S. strategic interests in its military incursions into Congo, liberalized trade laws and expansion of the U.S. military base network in Africa (The U.S. has facilities in Entebbe and Kampala).
The failed campaign to capture Mr. Kony exemplifies the vapidity of the humanitarian intervention and Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, codified by the UN in 2005, which in theory was designed to help vulnerable peoples around the world but has provided a pretext for endless war.
Ms. Power and Ms. Rice and their contemporaries would have us believe that the U.S. military is the only salvation capable of saving beleaguered populations from evil.
However, they end up allying with custodians of the military industrial complex like Jim Inhofe and championing wars even the Pentagon cautions against. They appear oblivious to the fact that the U.S. military and its proxies routinely commit large-scale atrocities and prolong conflicts rooted in complex historical circumstances, which they frequently misrepresent.
Ms. Rice has told reporters that her biggest regret prior to serving in the Obama administration was “not doing more to prevent genocide in Rwanda” in 1994 when she was head of peacekeeping at the National Security Council. “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”
Recent scholarship has shown however that the killing in Rwanda was carried out by both Hutu and Tutsi and that rather than being a bystander, the U.S. government helped provoke the conflict by supporting the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)’s invasion of Rwanda from Uganda and backing RPF leader Paul Kagame who triggered the mass atrocities when he likely shot down the plane of Hutu President Juvenal Haybarimana. The Clinton administration in turn armed the RPF as they ethnically cleansed the Hutu and invaded Congo twice. (See Robin Philpot, Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa; Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies: Rwanda in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later)
During the Vietnam War era, antiwar activists spotlighted U.S. military atrocities and sought to reduce the military budget and foreign aid to anticommunist dictators.
As James Peck points out in Ideal Illusions, the Carter administration coopted human rights concerns in support of U.S. military power by fixating on atrocities committed behind the Iron Curtain – a crusade subsequently picked up by neoconservatives in the Reagan administration.
Samantha Power helped further shape liberal opinion in support of military intervention with her Pulitzer-Prize winning book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (2002) which presented American leaders as being callous in their unwillingness to halt genocides in Turkey, Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda. Even when information is not exact, Ms. Power believes the president should adopt a “bias towards belief” that massacres are imminent, justifying preemptive war.
Reviewers hailed Power’s book as “one of the decade’s most important” on U.S. foreign policy and “a standard text on genocide prevention,” with The New Republic calling it a “book from heaven.” Richard Holbrooke of the State Department passed out copies to co-workers and President George W. Bush, after being read a summary of the chapter on Rwanda, wrote in the margins: “NOT ON MY WATCH.” Then-Senator Barack Obama Jr. meanwhile hired Power after reading the whole book.
Studying U.S. foreign policy through response to genocide is problematic, however, because the term genocide is sometimes applied to describe war-time atrocities during counter-insurgency. It is often politicized and avoids critical scrutiny into political economy and imperialism. There is also an underlying colonialist presumption that Third World countries have to be rescued by Western military interventions, when past Western interference has often been a source of ethnic divisions and economic exploitation fueling conflict.
For Uganda, Ms. Power portrayed Kony as evil when the Ugandan military also committed atrocities the U.S. government helped enable. Political scientist Adam Branch details in Displacing Human Rights: War and Intervention in Northern Uganda how the northern Acholi people backed the socialist regime of Milton Obote (President of Uganda 1966-1971; 1980-1985) and were in turn persecuted by Museveni’s army, which according to one Bishop “behaved worse towards the Acholi than Idi Amin [notoriously brutal leader in 1970s].”
For years, Museveni maintained the war against Kony primarily to keep a crisis environment that enabled it “to justify measures that would be unacceptable in different circumstances,” and allow the government to “silence political dissidents, including vocal members of the Acholi population in parliament accused of being ‘friends of the terrorists.’” The war also enabled Museveni to receive extensive foreign military aid and to legitimize heavy military expenditures to the neglect of needed social reforms.
American military intervention in Uganda understood in this context did not serve any humanitarian function as Ms. Power and Ms. Rice would lead us to believe, but enhanced the power of one of Africa’s longest standing dictators while stifling the prospects for social reform and for addressing the grievances giving rise to insurgency in the North.
$780 million in American taxpayer resources were in turn wasted.
In the hunt for Kony, U.S. Special Forces appear to have worked alongside Executive Outcomes (EO), a private mercenary outfit created by veterans of the apartheid war in South Africa. EO Chairman Eeben Barlow was hired by a wealthy Texas philanthropist named Shannon Sedgwick Davis, founder of the Bridgewater charitable foundation which finances Invisible Children.
In October 2013, The New Yorker reported that Ms. Davis forged close relations with Ugandan army General Edward Katumba Wamala, who according to Human Rights Watch was trained at the U.S. Army War College and headed Ugandan military operations in Eastern Congo which resulted in significant human rights atrocities and the looting of mineral resources.
This is a great irony considering Ms. Davis and her State Department and probably CIA backers were ostensibly motivated by humanitarian concerns.
Pundits have attributed the triumph of Donald Trump to the elitism of the Democratic Party and its alienation of working class voters. Of added importance is the party’s wrong-headed embrace of the “humanitarian intervention” and R2P doctrines, which serve little more than the vested interests of the military-industrial complex.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012) and author of an article on the history of military assistance programs with Oxford Encyclopedia (http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-346?rskey=XWCq2g&result=9) and critique of Samantha Power and humanitarian intervention in the Asia Pacific Journal (http://apjjf.org/2014/11/24/Jeremy-Kuzmarov/4132/article.html).