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The Problem with Power | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

The Problem with Power

In the latest issue of Time magazine, Samantha Power -- the author of A Problem from Hell and a former adviser to Barack Obama -- proposes a radical solution for the crisis in Zimbabwe. Her solution needs a thoughtful reply, because in my opinion it's dangerously misguided.

Power rose to fame by proclaiming the importance of preventing genocide in failed and failing states, and her book (subtitled "America and the Age of Genocide") is focused on that hellish problem. But she wouldn't be so important were she not a formative adviser to Obama's still-evolving worldview. Her book has lengthy chapters on Cambodia and Rwanda, among others, but its real focus has been the shattered remnants of Yugoslavia, where President Clinton and NATO intervened with force in the 1990s.

In her Time essay, "Saving Zimbabwe," Power counterposes what she calls two extremes: "hand-wringing ... multilateralists" who want to use diplomacy and "constructive engagement" to deal with Robert Mugabe and "consequence-blind militarism by zealous moralists who call for regime change by force." Thus, she neatly sets herself up as the Goldilocks of the happy middle.

In a nutshell, Power's plan is for the Zimbabwean opposition to "set up a government-in-exile and appoint ambassadors abroad -- including to the UN." That would force the United Nations to choose between Mugabe's rep and that of the opposition of Morgan Tsvangirai. She wants to challenge the world to take sides between countries that support the March 29 vote that was won by the opposition and countries that accept the rigged, June 27 action by Mugabe to perpetuate his rule.

One by one, those African and Western leaders who claim to be disgusted with Mugabe should announce that they bilaterally recognize the validity of the March 29 first-round election results, which showed the opposition winning 48% to 43%, though the margin was almost surely larger. The countries which do would make up the new "March 29 bloc" within the U.N. and would declare Morgan Tsvangirai the new President of Zimbabwe. They would then announce that Mugabe and the 130 leading cronies who have already been sanctioned by the West will not be permitted entry to their airports. ...

If "the U.N." is disaggregated into its component parts, Mugabe's friends will be exposed. "June 27" countries will be those who favor electoral theft, while "March 29" countries will be those who believe that the Zimbabweans aren't the only ones who should stand up and be counted.

Sounds good, right? But here's the problem. Not every country in the world is ready for an all-in showdown over Zimbabwe. Many countries in Africa, including South Africa, are worried about the political, economic, and military consequences of forcing the issue. Just yesterday, at the G-8 meeting in Japan, Western leaders foudn themselves pitted in direct opposition to African leaders over Zimbabwe. Here's the Toronto Globe and Mail on the subject:

Group of Eight leaders yesterday pushed the heads of African nations to take strong steps toward forcing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe out of power, exposing divisions between major developed countries and Africans, who raised fears that tougher action might tip the volatile country into civil war ....

African leaders expressed frustration with the situation in Zimbabwe, but also called for caution. Last week, a split African Union conference opted not to censure Mr. Mugabe.

The union's leader, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, told reporters that the Africans believe the solution is a government that includes Mr. Mugabe and the opposition.

I'd say that Africans' fears of civil war (and close-to-genocidal bloodletting that could follow) are realistic. And it's by no means clear that Russia, China, and other world powers who are suspicious of US and Western efforts to topple regimes they don't like would go along with Samantha Power's plan. So her plan to carve up the world into "March 29" countries and "June 27" countries is a recipe for disaster, and it could result in creating animosity, division, and bloc vs. bloc rivalries that could undermine the possibility of diplomatic solutions for the war in Iraq, the showdown over Iran's nuclear program, the North Korea issue, and others.

Power says correctly that the situation in Zimbabwe involves "ruthlessless and savagery." But it hardly rises to the level of genocide. (That doesn't stop Nat Hentoff, a libertarian, human rights activist who writes for the Moonie-owned Washington Times from calling Mugabe "the Hitler of Africa" and describing him as "satanic.") If her idea works for Zimbabwe, why not apply it to a couple of dozen other countries around the world? What if the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood declared itself a government-in-exile for Egypt, Syria, and Jordan? Why not back the Cuban-American National Foundation as government-in-exile for Cuba? Why not apply it to the 'Stans, to Russia? Why not back efforts by revanchists in Taiwan to declare themselves the legitimate government of China? (Oops, we tried that for a while, didn't we?)

Though Samantha Power is motivated not by imperial designs but by a moral imperative, her solution for Zimbabwe is the perfect example of democracy promotion run wild. The long-suffering people of Zimbabwe will eventually get justice. Mugabe is in his mid-80s and won't be around forever, and when he dies the military gang around him is likely to disintegrate. In the meantime, perhaps Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and other African leaders can damp down the violence by persuading Mugabe and Tsvangirai to accept a coalition government. Til then, let's not make things worse.

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