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How We Could Save Zimbabwe

You'd think the headline—Robert Mugabe's militia burns opponent's wife alive—would say it all, but it doesn't. Seven of Mugabe's thugs attacked Dadirai Chipiro, the wife of Mhondoro district opposition leader Patson Chipiro. "They grabbed Mrs Chipiro and chopped off one … Read More

By / June 12, 2008

You'd think the headline—Robert Mugabe's militia burns opponent's wife alive—would say it all, but it doesn't. Seven of Mugabe's thugs attacked Dadirai Chipiro, the wife of Mhondoro district opposition leader Patson Chipiro. "They grabbed Mrs Chipiro and chopped off one of her hands and both her feet. Then they threw her into her hut, locked the door and threw a petrol bomb through the window." They had to have beaten her severely before burning her to death (along with much of her village), since according to the coroner's report, "all hands and legs were broken…the cause of death [w]as haemorrhaging and severe burns."

By mounting a coup against a government to which he no longer has any legitimate claim, Mugabe has done the world the clarifying favor of removing any objections to an intervention in Zimbabwe on grounds of national sovereignty: Whatever constraints one thinks sovereignty does or does not impose on foreign powers' actions in a state, Zimbabwe's sovereign authority resides with Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change. Since Mugabe has usurped that authority, there is no conflict with national sovereignty, or any other provisions of international law, to prohibit an external intervention to enforce the results of the election.

In practice, of course, an external intervention means a (mostly) American deployment. Without American support, as Shmuel Rosner and Adam LeBor have been discussing, the international community is helpless to do anything about humanitarian crises. Which is why nothing will be done. The case for an international mandate to arrest Mugabe and restore democracy in Zimbabwe is so straightforward that it might still be possible, despite the damage the Bush administration has done the the US's bargaining power, to assemble broad international support for such an operation. But what army would we do it with? And how would we begin to pay for it?

Resources are scarce—that's the foundational premise of economic theory. Every single day in Iraq costs $720 million dollars + approximately 16 man-hours of labor x 150,000 men (and some women); there's a lot you can do with that much capital. You can give it all back to taxpayers. You can invest it in domestic projects. You can use it to pay down the national debt. You can use it to fund and staff a massive global anti-poverty campaign, or anti-hunger campaign, or anti-disease campaign. And you can use it to intervene to save democracy in places like Zimbabwe or shut down killing fields in places like Darfur. Humanitarian crises happen frequently. And as long as the armed forces of the United States remain over-deployed, the prospects of any humanitarian crisis being resolved in any non-disastrous way are minimal.

Never mind the sunk cost fallacies that keep propagandism for the Iraq war going; to argue credibly and honestly for the continuation of the war, one has to be willing to argue not just that it's a worthwhile cause, but that it is a uniquely important cause that justifies losing the opportunity to attend to any of the world's problems which our commitment to Iraq prevents us from doing. How sad that it should fall to monsters like Mugabe and the Janjaweed of Sudan to expose the essential fraudulence of our foreign policy debates.

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