Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Hokey Pokey

The US is going to deploy about 100 troops to Uganda to help in the pursuit of the Lords Resistance Army and it’s certifiably insane leader, Joseph Kony.

This is an unequivocal good thing.  Kony is the worst kind of small bore war criminal, a local madman who kidnaps and indoctrinates children, using them to intimidate, murder, mutilate and rape the local rural populations throughout multiple Central African nations.  Almost unbelievably brutal, his forces stay on the move, stealing what they need, committing horrific crimes in the process.

Sure, the US is an economic basket case, with flat GDP growth, near 20% real unemployment, increasing poverty and crumbling infrastructure, but we have a tremendous amount of military capability sitting idle, and this is one of those opportunities where the US can apply some of those military resources to try to solve a real-world humanitarian problem without causing additional unforeseen geopolitical problems.

A company of Rangers with some associated air and intelligence assets doesn’t even constitute a rounding error on the budget, and yet that tiny injection of twenty first century combat power changes the calculation for the entire region, and might offer the best chance for a blighted people to finally rid themselves of this madman.

Even in present circumstances, the US is the most economically and militarily powerful nation in the world.  There is much good the US could do, from disease control to agriculture to education, but there is a tremendous lack of political will for projects like that, not only in the global south, but even here in America there are hard and fast limits to our willingness to direct public resources at these sorts of problems.  Oddly, however, the US has always been willing to deploy military resources regardless of cost - as long as the solution required highly professional and technologically advanced killing, we were at the head of the line of volunteers.  Many times, those projects benefited despots, or resulted in such an unimaginable slaughter as to render the accomplishment of the original goal Pyrrhic.

Within these odd and arbitrary constraints, perhaps humanitarian military intervention is the best we can do.  If we helped with clean water and schools and roads and digital communications it would be a better thing, but with our dysfunctional political system controlled by authoritarians and racists, perhaps the best we can do is agree on who the bad guys are, and then kill them.


Also today, there have been credible reports that the Obama administration has abandoned it’s bizarre attempts to keep an American military force in Iraq after the December 31st deadline specified in the SOFA.  In spite of an endless stream of promises during and after the campaign to end the US involvement in Iraq, Obama has in the last year sought a deal to keep some number of troops, probably a Brigade Combat Team, renamed as a Training Unit, in country after the new year.  The thing is, Prime Minister al-Maliki could agree to allow the troops to stay in spite of the SOFA (and as long as they actually then DID remain to protect him and his Cabinet from retaliation), but in order for them to continue to operate with complete immunity from the Iraqi criminal justice system as the US Command insists, there would have to be a vote in Parliament for which Maliki readily admits he does not have the votes.

So either the Obama administration is finally acknowledging reality, or they are trying a last-ditch hardball tactic to attempt to frighten the Iraqis into backing down and asking for a continued US presence.  There are a lot of factions in postwar Iraq, and some of them depend quite heavily on the US military to enforce their positions and protect their lives.  Many would like to see the US military continue to operate in Iraq, but it is politically unwise (except for the Kurds) to say so out loud.

The invasion of Iraq was a monumental blunder for the US, one we will be paying for in a variety of ways for many years to come.  But it's important to remember that the Iraqis paid a much higher price for our blunder, and will be trying to recover from it for the better part of a century.  There is nothing to be gained by staying, no fences will be mended and no interest served beyond the desperate grip on power that those who played along now find growing tenuous.  It's well past time to cut the cord...


  1. But it's important to remember that the Iraqis paid a much higher price for our blunder, and will be trying to recover from it for the better part of a century.

    Exactly. And we're going to fill the place with contractors, otherwise know to our corporate press a mercenaries (when other people hire them).

  2. Meh. The Iraqi government doesn't need to accept them. It's pretty hard for the US to credibly threaten to attack the place again. They can draw the line. They don't because the vaunted us military is the most effective gang of thugs you can get, and you can't hire them. You have to be the players they WANT in the game. And that's even worse, if you think about it...

  3. But the military's involvement comes bundled with skid-loads of cash, which the Iraqi gov may find much harder to refuse....