A few weeks ago, I encountered an article in The New York Times informing me that President Obama had ordered the deployment of “a hundred armed military advisers” into Uganda to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA is a resistance group led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spokesperson of God who believes he must instate a theocratic regime in Central Africa. Since he set these goals in the 1980’s, Kony has led the LRA into countless villages and murdered an estimated 30,000 people.
Congress approved the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009 in May 2010, an act that allowed for further U.S. “efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability.” President Obama is now just following up on this act by deploying these advisers to Africa.
At this point, the first question arises: are we entitled to make these kinds of grand interferences into other nations?
Earlier on in the semester, we discussed cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah, who appeared in the video “Appiah on Cosmopolitanism” where he expressed our need for cosmopolitanism today. A cosmopolitan approach would entail accepting that there are differences between people or viewpoints, but then also striving for a general framework that can be applied everywhere. There may be points of agreement, but there is also still some room for judgment between people. Appiah believes that as citizens, we have a responsibility to each other and must begin to think as global citizens. One might therefore say that it is our duty as Americans to assist those in need, in this case the villagers of central Africa.
However, where is the line between global care versus imperialism? Doesn’t going into Africa with guns and whatnot bear resemblance to days of imperialism in the 19th and 20th century? If America can launch itself into another country because the LRA is running lose, what else entitles us to enter a nation?
If we are thinking about imperialism, another way of framing the situation would be through the lens of universalism. Rather than tolerating or accepting the viewpoints of others, by way of universalism one might view a situation as “you’re with me or you’re against me.” While human rights activists globally are applauding Obama’s initiative, not everyone is so pleased. American radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh says that Obama is “targeting Christians,” since technically Kony is fighting for a theocracy, by sending troops to fight the LRA. He argues that because the “[LRA] are Christians” and “they are fighting the Muslims in Sudan,” that Obama should not be allowed to “remove them from the battlefield as it would create “a new war.”
Now, upon first hearing Limbaugh’s words I thought they were absurd. Yet from the perspective of a devout Catholic, perhaps Limbaugh really did find this to be an example of Obama’s universalism as Obama attacked those not living in the American way. America has developed as a secular country in which there is clear separation between church and state, which is quite contrary to Joseph Kony’s aspirations for a Ugandan theocracy. So, maybe Limbaugh really did feel threatened and believe that Obama saw this situation as “you’re with me or you’re against me,” in a scenario of secular America versus a branch of theocratic Africa. Ultimately, I would argue that Limbaugh was grossly uninformed of the extent of Kony’s depravity, and this was not an example of Obama’s universalism. He may have been interfering, but it was as a global citizen who cared, and held cosmopolitan views. When thousands of innocent people are involved, something must be done.
Obama decided to act, but one other alternative might have been to remain uninvolved. The situation could have been handled by way of cultural relativism, in which we come to value something by particular experiences in the past and there is no room for judgment, just difference. So, maybe Obama should have accepted that there is just difference between life in America and life in central Africa right now. But then where is the line between not judging another country versus allowing crimes against humanity?
Was Obama wrong to send our troops into another country? Where is the line that allows one to chose when intervention is appropriate? Is this instance an example of cosmopolitanism or universalism, or should Obama have embraced cultural relativism, instead? What do you think?