Current strategic and budgetary constraints limit U.S. resources available for commitments abroad. In such an era, policy makers need to carefully husband resources, leverage every instrument of national power and rely on complicated and often messy compromises in order to resolve conflicts. The virtues of such statesmanlike prudence, however, are in direct opposition to the black-and-white, awareness-raising ethos of campaigns like “Kony 2012”—which seek to grab what political space they can, irrespective of any other claims which might exist or arise. In fact, the fatal conceit of Invisible Children and its defenders is solipsistic confusion: their own newly discovered awareness of an issue that already has effective solutions in the real world.
Fortunately, the fallout may be little this time around. Aside from possibly complicating the work of those who are actually doing something to hasten Kony’s end, this feel-good episode resulted in no subversion of international efforts or obstruction of U.S. national interests; serious efforts were already well underway. Alas, there is no guarantee that when the next batch of self-appointed crusaders asks Americans to don a tacky bracelet or accessory for some far-off cause the only faux pas will be of the fashion variety.
J. Peter Pham is director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.