Millennials shaping foreign policy with Kony 2012?
Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel group the Lord?s Resistance Army that has been fighting a war against the Ugandan government for the past twenty years, makes a rare statement to the media during peace talks on August 1, 2006 on the Congo-Sudan border.
March 15th, 2012
05:45 PM ET

Millennials shaping foreign policy with Kony 2012?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

The Kony2012 Youtube sensation has triggered a secondary op-ed explosion, as “real experts” sound off - mostly negatively - about having their sacred analytic turf encroached upon by celebrity endorsers and ADHD-addled “slackivists” who’ve merely clicked a couple of buttons (Like! Donate!) before moving on to the next viral sensation.

There’s nothing more disturbing to the national security intelligentsia than having American foreign policy crowd-sourced, especially when those allegedly apathetic Millennials are preemptively arguing for aU.S.military intervention.

Doesn’tAmerica’s biggest-ever generational cohort realize that the country is tired of performing global police work?

This week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced drill looks at the Kony2012 video phenomenon, offering several reasons why it signals something new and important in U.S. foreign policy debates – and not.

Kony2012 taps into a long-established trend in U.S. foreign policy

It’s tempting to spot – yet again – the death of the nation-state system in this agenda-setting exercise by a non-governmental organization. The U.S.-based charity Invisible Children produced the 30-minute film on the central Africa-based Lord’s Resistance Army militia leader Joseph Kony. But let’s remember that the International Criminal Court, which indicted Kony years ago, was set up by advanced nation-states for the task of extending international justice to the world’s ungovernable zones.

The Kony2012 film’s war cry - such as it is - simply continues the trend inU.S.military operations that extends all the way back to Operation Just Cause, or the toppling of Manuel Noriega’s narco-criminal regime in Panama.

Every majorU.S.military intervention since then has invariably begun with, or devolved into, a manhunt. Somalia devolved into the hunt for Mohamed Farar Aideed; Haiti started with “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s engineered departure; the Balkans triggered its own war-criminal tribunal that later begat the ICC; Iraq I+II culminated in the hunt for the “deck of cards” line-up; Afghanistan was always the hunt for Osama bin Laden; and Libya the isolating and then killing of Moammar Gadhafi.Americahasn’t fought a war against a nation-state for decades. Instead, its interventions have all been about rounding up the bad guys.

An empathy-driven U.S. foreign policy isn’t necessarily any less muscular than a fear-based one

Kony2012 simply exploits that now well-establishedU.S.military role, enlisting it for its own specific target: the ICC’s most-wanted war criminal. The only part that’s unusual about it is the distinct lack ofU.S.strategic interests being threatened, making this an almost pure “right to protect”-style argument.

And that’s where the Kony 2012 film operates at its most visceral effectiveness: asking Americans to care about “child soldiers” on the other side of the planet. The basic message evokes the same retribution-filled emotions triggered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks – namely, nobody should have to die that way. But it does so by engaging the viewers’ empathy (What if this was your child?) more than their righteous anger (Let’s kill this bad man – right now!), suggesting that the former emotion can be more powerful than the latter in fueling the movement.

But in the end, a citizen-based foreign policy movement based on empathy versus fear has to be viewed as an overall positive. Just be aware that the death of citizen apathy on this score typically empowers a neo-conservative foreign policy over the intervene-as-little-as-possible realpolitik favored by most foreign policy elites.

In its use of social networks, Kony2012 represents a brave new form of foreign policy lobbying

The Tri Campaign associated with Kony2012 and the Invisible Children charity is legitimately labeled a “Facebook NGO,” meaning that the same peer-to-peer organizing dynamic that has fueled the Arab Spring is now being put to use by Millennials to reset the agenda ofU.S.foreign policy. This function has long belonged to the various lobbying firms that dominate the Washington DC landscape, the most prominent being the Pentagon itself.

That alone explains the foreign policy establishment’s largely hostile response to Kony2012’s “simplicity,” “white man’s burden” mindset, etc. After all, shouldn’t questions of such importance be debated overwhelmingly by middle-aged white men on CSPAN, safe from the prying eyes of 99 percent of Americans? And shouldn’t all these misinformed Millennials realize that the United States Government doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with the International Criminal Court?  Honestly, this could all get quickly out of hand if we’re not careful.

Does civil society + social media = the tyranny of well-intentioned and highly vocal movements?  Maybe. But it’s not yet clear that this would be any worse than America suffering the secret workings of inside-the-Beltway lobbyists. Washington insiders constantly lament the ignorance and stupidity of the average American voter.  Well, Facebook NGOs tackle that problem, getting the facts far less twisted than your average political attack ad.

The “slippery slope” counter-argument suffers the same strategic myopia exhibited by Kony2012

Critics rightly point out that Kony2012 is clearly behind the historical curve, as the “war” it seeks to end was concluded years ago and the LRA is now a weak shell of its former self.  Yes, the critics note, Joseph Kony is still wanted by the ICC, but is he worth a tens-of-billions-of-dollars majorU.S.military intervention?  And if America is going to spend money on that, why not fix a host of other things wrong with Africa?

Kony2012 is exceedingly simplistic in its argument that capturing or killing the warlord somehow fixes what is wrong with that region of central Africa. It also misleadingly perpetuates the notion that Africa is one big bloodletting mess, when it’s actually ground zero for globalization’s most rapid – and wealth-creating – expansion right now.

But just because the war is basically over doesn’t mean Kony gets a pass on his ICC indictments. American foreign policy is well served by this bottom-up embodiment of the-whole-world-is-watching dynamic, because the growing enforcement of international rules lessens the global policeman’s workload over time by fostering a deterring message that says, Ultimately you will be brought to justice!

So let’s be honest with ourselves here,America.  More things are going right than wrong right now in Africa, and the vast majority of “right” things have nothing to do with the West, but ratherAsia’s growing trade and investment ties with the continent.

Out of the enduring fear that Africa will become a future launching pad for transnational terrorism, Washington created Africa Command, which recently – on President Obama’s orders – sent 100 U.S. military advisors into Uganda, ostensibly to help that country’s army close the door on the LRA (and other security issues) by building up its institutional capacity.

If Invisible Children’s campaign lit an additional “fire” under the White House on that score, then both America and Africa are better for it. No, Kony isn’t worth a major intervention.  But the right missile from the right drone?  That’s another matter.

That’s Wikistrat's  “wisdom of the crowd” for this week.

Now tell us what you think about Kony2012 in the comments section below. And be sure to check out more at, a cutting-edge global consultancy.

Topics: Africa

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    It looks like these so-called "millennials" are trying to get us to butt into yet another foreign country. Isn't this country doing enough bullying around the world already? I think so!!! I say let the Ugandan authorities deal with this Joseph Kony and the LRA.

    March 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • Sboo

      Kony is already gone from Uganda. America already sent a special force to work with kenyan army there last year.
      LRA has been 26 years or so.

      March 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
      • Daniel

        The Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) is still responsible for Kony the UN holds them to this.

        March 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • No Man's Land

      George, you should take the millennial test. It's fun. We're the ones, old enough that it seems we've been around for a millennium, who don't play video games, watch much tv, or care to text. We read newspapers and books, aspire to higher education, and network with those in positions of responsibility. The kids who helped raise money for the Kony Baloney campaign are, well, kids! They, in their innocence, certainly didn't realize they were used as a "popular support" instrument to do what the Pentagon has been trying to do for years - occupy Africa for its resources. That this article wants to blame Millennials (whoever they are) is just a pathetic attempt to divert attention from themselves. These Wikiguys, who do not want to be named, who wrote this article, appear to be the ones who want to invade, and then blame it on some kids. It's silly name calling really. I've encountered it before, whenever I voice my opposition to US intervention I get labelled - a conspiracy theorist nut or something. And yes, all the kids pushing their like buttons on Facebook only need to hear a label that sounds "bad" and they jump all over it, never knowing the real issues. Old tactics, I'm sure you know, but they still have some success. The kids are the "ADHD slacktivists" forming public opinion unwittingly by following a well-designed government (CIA) psy-ops program called Facebook. So, George Patton. You may not know about FB, being an old timer like us Millennials, so it's probably best you not get involved. This is not your war.

      March 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Reply
      • thelordofexcess

        You are right. Paying attention to xbox and Lady Gaga is far more useful. Caring about fellow humans is a waste of time and lets not even talk about voting or taking time to educate oneself on the issues, just more time wasting activities.

        The amount of horrible harm done by bringing attention to Kony has damaged humanity, look at all the harm caused by this publicity. The ICC war crimes indictment against Kony is just fake, Kony is a great guy who has done nothing but help little old ladies cross the street his entire life. Using worthless social media for positive social change is a bad idea, it should actually just be used as a tool to divert people's attention from voting, being productive with their lives, etc. it should never be used for anything positive.

        Straw man and reductio ad absurdum seem to be your preferred forms of reasoning.

        March 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  2. Alan

    It would help if 'millennials' and indeed anyone spouting an opinion about KONY2012 knew all of the facts. I recommend people research Joseph Kony, for example see or do a thorough google search.

    As a Teacher, I tell my students there is no better source then one you have found and researched yourself. Trusting the views of a viral youtube video on such an important issue is not intelligent.

    March 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • No Man's Land

      Yes teacher, we did our research. We know who Kony was, which is irrelevant to what the Kony Issue IS. There are a lot of bad guys out there, somewhere dead. The people of Uganda do not support US military "advisory" intervention, and the Kony propaganda is just another US false flag; an unscrupulous means to invade (oil rich) Africa. Anyway, Kony is not even in Uganda so the US with their Ugandan army (thanks to the dictator they put in power) will have to run all over Africa to look for Kony. Oh yea, we're gonna need more soldiers. You know that Obama waived the child-soldiers' rights in Sudan and the Congo right? I'll bet Kony must be in Sudan! Yes that's it! Sudan needs our "humanitarian" missiles and drones and George Clooney will even sit in jail for a few hours if need be, to accomplish his humanitarian goals. What a guy. Yes, I too encourage students to do their research. Look up George Clooney. Actor!

      March 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  3. No Man's Land

    I didn't know what a Millennial was so I googled it - took the test, and scored high! Woo hoo, I guess. Advanced Search:
    Millennials: A portrait of America’s Next Generation – The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change." I guess that's better than being a "celebrity endorser and ADHD-addled “slackivist”. Apparently they're not so popular in this article. Further, I had to look-up "op-ed" and "NGO". I know, I know! Feels like I'm in school again. So, now that we've got the pejorative labels all sorted out, I want to address this article. Who is the editor really? I was hoping it would be Fareed. But apparently this is an "op-ed" (Opposite the Editorial page). So, before I go any further, I would like to know who is Mr. Wikistrat? Are you a "Washington insider constantly lamenting the ignorance and stupidity of the average American voter"? Are you one of those "shills" (still not sure what they are) or "trolls" that work for the Pentagon? I loved this article, but who wrote it? Okay, let me know, and we'll converse. Meanwhile I'm heading back to Fareed's page. Cheers.

    March 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Reply
    • Leviathan Force

      Wikistrat is headed up by Thomas P. Barnett check out his blog:

      March 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  4. No Man's Land

    Hey, wait a minute. I think I may have been insulted here. If I'm a Millennial – the Next Generation (which the test proved me out to be with flying colors) you've got to know, I'm over 50 years old! He he. Next Generation here we come. And the comment, "There’s nothing more disturbing to the national security intelligentsia than having American foreign policy crowd-sourced, especially when those allegedly apathetic Millennials are preemptively arguing for a U.S.military intervention." ... You gotta know, I am NOT apathetic. AND, I ALWAYS argue AGAINST US Military intervention. And I have been vocal about outing the Kony Baloney propaganda for what it is – a Pentagon approved piece of BS designed to encourage further US intervention in Africa. So, Mr. Wikicrap, I don't need to stay here and take you insults. And from your last paragraph I gather you WANT more intervention and drones and war and destabilization and go poking your nose into other peoples' business. Oh Man! You must be one of those "Trolls". (I'm going to go look that up now, but I'll be back to engage you in some fun name-calling. Or not.) How about we just address the issues.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  5. .

    Don't Underestimate these ones of light they will save the future and are the future.

    March 17, 2012 at 1:33 am | Reply
    • No Man's Land

      Here here!

      March 17, 2012 at 4:06 am | Reply
  6. DaMouse

    Geez, fellas, if you want to know who/what Wikistrat is, just look at the top of the article!

    March 17, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
  7. 15 usa soldiers ra pe 2 afgani women before killing them

    the afgani investigation and the international lab proved now that 15 usa soldiers was involved of killing more than 16 children and women, and that 15 soldiers ra pe 2 afgani ladies young ladies ra pe them repeatdley and then shot them dead and burned there bodies , exactley as it happened in iraq when usa soldiers ra ped 14 years old girl then shot her and shot her parents and brothers and burned there bodies ...usa did that in vitnam ,korea and many other places they are murderous thugs ra piest killers and OBAMA say soyy all the time!!?/while leaving evil iranians and evil syrian bashar al asad killing more civilians obama is a cowered president if obama want to fix this problem he must attack syria now and remove bashar al asad to show to the muslim world that he mean it, remove the evil in syria now and prove your point OBAMA.......why you are silent...SILENCE IS A CRIME.

    March 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  8. browndesk

    To study psychological trauma (Kony) is to come face to face with human vulnerability in the natural world and with the capacity for evil in human nature...when the traumatic events (turning children into soldiers, raping people including children, murdering, kidnapping, terrorizing) are of human design, those who bear witness (Everyone who has watched the viral video) are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. all the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action engagement and remembering.-Judith Herman, 1992
    Its been amazing to watch the energy the viral world has taken to the Kony campaign and equally amazing to see the elaborate rationalization that allows inaction, cowardice by a different name. Kony and the LRA happened. "We can hold back from the suffering of the world, we have the freedom to do so and it is in accordance with our nature. But perhaps this holding back is the one suffering we could have avoided"- Kafka.

    March 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  9. tingle007

    If you don't like Millennial foreign policy just wait for the ADD to kick in and it'll pass. Wow, that squirrel outside has a REALLY fluffy tail.

    March 18, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
  10. Katie

    joseph kony should be stoped at all cost. KONY2012 baby

    March 19, 2012 at 8:11 am | Reply
  11. Jack Officer

    It's really sad to see some of the comments on here. Facebook is an evil CIA conspiracy to control the citizens? Since when has binding as many people together as possible and having them share ideas been anything but the opposite of that? Anyway the article opens a little heavy-handed but I think it ends up drawing a lot of the right conclusions. I agree that this is the first in a wave of such movements, a feeling I had after just watching the video itself.

    March 19, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply

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