I admire the efforts of journalists and activists to humanize foreign civil conflicts. That appreciation held me back from weighing in on the campaign by Invisible Children to publicize the atrocities meted out by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). But the phenomenon surrounding Kony 2012 keeps gaining momentum, and I thought I would offer some brief comments.
It seems that by deploying U.S. military advisers last November to parts of Central Africa in search of Kony and his thugs, the Obama administration supposedly demonstrated its selflessness in the promotion of human rights. However, the dispatching of advisers also sheds a harsh light on the stark opportunism of central planners in Washington who revile the LRA yet support Arab tyrannies guilty of human-rights abuses on a vastly larger scale.
I am often the first to argue that diplomatic and economic engagement with loathsome foreign powers is unavoidable in statecraft—but open engagement is one thing, active endorsement is quite another. For a prime example, look no further than Egypt, which arguably makes the violence the LRA unleashes pale in comparison.
While many in Washington may not like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists who are coming to power in Cairo, we are taking it on the chin for backing Hosni Mubarak and his twenty-nine year authoritarian rule. Understandably, Egyptians have not quickly forgotten that Washington backed—to the tune of more than $60 billion—a harsh dictatorship that perpetuated its power through the denial of free speech, arbitrary imprisonment, routine torture, and other forms of savage repression. At Egyptian detention facilities, the torture methods used include water boarding, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, electric shock, and suspension from metal hooks. Washington’s concern for human rights was one it rarely applied to this brutal tyrant, and our use of his slaughterhouse contradicted the basic moral principles that we purport to impose on the rest of the world.