The Economist–What Congo means for Obama

As for Mr Obama, he has a chance to restore America’s moral leadership. That is not something he should do by scouring the world in search of new monsters to slay. Nor, though, can a war-weary America turn its back on people threatened by ethnic cleansing or genocide. Since 2005 the UN has accepted a responsibility to protect people in such cases, so this is not a burden for America alone. But since the UN has no army, and no other countries have the military resources America boasts, there may be times when only the superpower can move soldiers swiftly where they are needed.

Should that call come, Mr Obama will need the courage to respond, notwithstanding Americans’ fatigue. In extremis, if the danger is great and veto-wielding members of the Security Council block the way, he and others might have to act without the Security Council’s blessing, as NATO did in Kosovo. Far better would be an early effort by Mr Obama to reach agreement on the rules to apply and forces to earmark so that the UN can actually exercise its collective responsibility to protect. That will be hard, but Mr Bush was actively hostile to such work. How fitting if the next president made possible a genuinely global response to the next Rwanda, Congo or Darfur.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Republic of Congo, US Presidential Election 2008

11 comments on “The Economist–What Congo means for Obama

  1. drummie says:

    [i] Off topic comment deleted by elf. [/i]

  2. Irenaeus says:

    [i] He supports domestic terrorists. [/i] —#1

    Remember the Ninth Commandment.

  3. ElaineF. says:

    Is the threshold for humanitarian involvement a moving target? In the face of several, what will be the schema for prioritization? What if there is vigorous opposition and blood needs to be shed? May those who will be making these decisions pray for guidance.

  4. libraryjim says:

    I remember only too well the Clinton administration, fiercely anti-military, cut the military budget by a significant amount, as well as cut the amount of active duty personnel.

    At one point in a naval action ordered by the President, the ship ran out of Cruise Missles! And then of course, the President still expected the military to deploy for various UN actions.

    Very difficult to do with a) minimized budget and b) lack of active duty soldiers.

    I hope President-elect Obama takes this lesson to heart and does not follow President Clinton’s example.

  5. Irenaeus says:

    [i] The Clinton administration, fiercely anti-military, cut the military budget by a significant amount. [/i] —LibraryJim [#4]

    Not so. Under Bush Sr. (fiscal 1990-1993), defense spending averaged $290 billion a year. [i] That included the costs of the Gulf War. [/i]

    Under Clinton, (fiscal 1994-2001), defense spending averaged $279 billion a year. That’s 4% less than under Bush Sr.—not surprising since we had no major war and the Soviet Union had ceased to pose a serious threat.

  6. Katherine says:

    What I want to understand is how this proposed action in Congo, moving alone if necessary if Security Council members block it, differs from the Iraq situation in 2002-2003. Please, not the “lies” line. Who decides, and how, when it is appropriate for American forces to act and when it is not?

  7. yohanelejos says:

    Katherine, what was the humanitarian disaster in Iraq in 2002? The main issue in Iraq was not that but the possibility of weapons of mass destruction, right? I think the cause of helping these millions who could be quickly killed is a real moral imperative.

  8. Katherine says:

    yohanelejos, the possibility of weapons of mass destruction was one of several reasons for the Iraq action but not the only one. Humanitarian reasons were another; also the fact that we were already engaged there militarily and had been since 1991; and we had endured twelve years of violation of U.N. truce agreements and repudiation of inspection requirements. And you can add to that the Hussein regime’s funding of terrorism outside its borders, although the U.S. never claimed that there was a direct connection to 9/11.

    We intervened for humanitarian reasons without any other great reasons in the Balkans in the Clinton years, and we are still there. I don’t disagree that the U.S. President has the authority to order military troops in where he deems U.S. interests or safety to be at stake. If he chooses to expand U.S. interests to include humanitarian reasons in general, he has the ability to do so. Clinton did it. The President is the commander in chief and we elect him to make these decisions. All I am trying to point out is that this applied in the 1990s and also applied in 2003. And, after seeing the great difficulty of stabilizing Iraq, I wonder whether it will be wise to go into the Congo where we have no engagement at this time, no national interest that I know of other than the general humanitarian one, no funding of terrorism outside the immediate area, and no hint of a plan for stabilizing an area which has been chaotic for decades.

  9. Irenaeus says:

    Rwanda and Somalia provide more useful analogies than Iraq.
    — Modest military force, supplied by Uganda, sufficed to end the Rwandan genocide.
    — But Somalia provides an extreme example of how difficult it can be to establish a stable, viable government after years of disorder.

    There is at least one crucial parallel to Iraq: the need to have a realistic exit strategy before intervening.

  10. Irenaeus says:

    PS to #9: “Exit strategy” implies a focus on the foreign intervener. But the big question is what kind of government (and life) the Congolese people would have.

  11. Byzantine says:

    “Who decides, and how, when it is appropriate for American forces to act and when it is not?”

    Whoever holds power in the Executive branch.