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.
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