Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Please Invade My Country

with 5 comments

Zimbabwe. Sigh. OK, Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition leader who pulled out of the run-off election there has called for an international force to invade Zimbabwe and ensure fair elections. IE elections where he will likely win. I’ve held off mentioning anything about Zimbabwe since it is so depressing. However, someone calling for an invasion of their homeland can’t be ignored, especially since it hit CNN. So let’s deconstruct this event and shoot for some revisionist analysis, our forte here at Doug’s Darkworld.

So…where the heck is Zimbabwe? It’s in the middle of nowhere in Africa, in wilderness just north of South Africa. It was only colonized in the 1890s, when white settlers were given huge tracts of lowland agricultural land to settle and a government was set up. And I mean, quite literally, bands of white settlers in covered waggons took possession of the finest land while the natives were relegated to the hills. Rhodesia (as it was called then) declared itself a country in 1965, a thoroughly white dominated and run country, and a long bloody insurgency followed. In 1980 the whites basically gave up and Robert Mugabe came into power. The same Robert Mugabe who is running the country today.

And today the opposition leader has called for the UN to use force to ensure a fair election in Zimbabwe. Well, that certainly settles it, if an opposition leader calls for foreign intervention in the name of democracy, clearly a humanitarian intervention is justified. That is what the people who are gung ho to intervene all over the world will say. Sigh. Maybe it’s belabouring the obvious, but if a member of my neighbour’s family invites me to set fire to his house, this would not justify setting fire to his house. Nor would it be an excuse or defence for the consequences of my action. “He told me to do it” doesn’t justify a toddler’s action in a pre-school, it didn’t save the Nuremberg defendants, and it isn’t a justification for sending armies into sovereign countries.

Now of course the case will be made that we are not talking about setting a fire, and maybe a better analogy would be is it justified to me to run over to my neighbour’s yard and help him fight a fire? Of course. But we damn well better be sure there is a fire, and we damn well better know what we’re doing. The current situation in Zimbabwe is vastly more complicated than my simple analogies, which is why we need to err on the side of caution. Which of course is why Tsvangirai’s call for foreign intervention is not in and of itself a justification for foreign intervention.

Moving right along, three points. First of all, Mugabe is not some foreign conquerer who took over Zimbabwe by force, he is a native of Zimbabwe with a large following of fanatical supporters. How large is impossible to say, but dictators require at least some base of support. While a dictator doesn’t have to win elections, it’s not like he can simply ignore popular opinion. If a dictator loses all support, his days become very numbered indeed. My point here is that people often ignore this fact and convince themselves that “no one” supports a dictator or that the people will unilaterally “rejoice” if a foreign army removes the dictator from power. Both are incorrect assumptions in almost all cases.

Secondly, the history of humanitarian interventions has been pretty grim indeed. (In fact a good case can be made that “humanitarian intervention” is an oxymoron.) The USA has invaded Haiti four times in the past century to set things right, and it is still impoverished and undemocratic in the extreme. Somalia is still a mess despite several attempts to “intervene” and fix things. Iraq and Afghanistan are not anywhere near the glowing predictions made before their turn to be humanitized by UN sanctioned armies. In fact a recent study of 20th century humanitarian invasions showed maybe a 33% success rate at best. That’s low odds considering the terrible cost, and especially since some of these humanitarian invasions have spawned human catastrophes of epic scale. Iraq is the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since the partition of Palestine for example.

Lastly, I should point out that having a few local leaders who call for foreign armies is the oldest trick in the book. Almost every conquerer in history has cultivated support among some faction in lands he invades or occupies, it just makes things go so much easier. In fact in almost all cases invaders justify their invasion on humanitarian grounds. Bush’s efforts to democratize Iraq and Afghanistan are not really much different than Alexander the Great’s efforts to spread Greek civilization in the region, it is just the latest in a long bloody history of humanitarian invasions. The Romans, the Crusaders, the British, and others too numerous to mention have justified their conquests on humanartatian grounds. The words change, their meaning doesn’t.

In other words, “humanitarian invasion” is just another euphemism for the same old word, colonialism. Tsvangirai’s call for invasion is part of the problem, not a solution.

(The above image of 19th century Rhodesian settlers is public domain under US copyright law. Credit: Unknown. Imagine, as late as the nineteenth century self styled “settlers” stole land from native peoples on the pretext that the natives weren’t making good use of it. In fact, this is still happening today in some parts of the world! Stay tuned…)

Written by unitedcats

June 25, 2008 at 8:24 am

Posted in History, War, World

5 Responses

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  1. But the humanitarian invasion of Somalia went so well…</snark>


    June 25, 2008 at 11:45 pm

  2. What a great way to look at this situation. I read your site everyday and my first instict is to still think that an invasion to get rid of Mugabe is a good thing. But a little revisionist history and common sense clears it all up.

    Tim D

    June 26, 2008 at 5:26 am

  3. I feel obliged to make a comment about your post. I haven’t heard anything about Mr. Tsvangirai’s request for someone to invade Zimbabwe, so I can’t express any views on that.

    However, the situation in Zimbabwe is clearly not that of an enlightened dictatorship. Even if half of what we hear is western media blowing things out of proportion, any country where the citizens are willing to risk death and imprisonment just to cast a vote has some deep issues.

    I usually agree with your blog posts, but even the government of Angola (a long time supporter of Mugabe) has called the current election a complete farce, and is asking Mugabe to cancel the current “elections” until the opposition can freely mount their election campaign. Is it really an election if there is only one name on the ballot?

    Perhaps Mugabe does have a base of fanatical supporters, but if you’re in the 65% of the country that is getting the short end of the stick you’re pretty much out of luck. The humanitarian situation is terrible there, and the benevolent Mr. Mugabe doesn’t seem inclined to sacrifice any of his power for the betterment of the populace.

    In conclusion, I agree that violent outside intervention is a poor choice, but stepping up international pressure to alleviate the terrible situation can only be a good thing. (Hey it worked in Libya, now they are a respected member of the world political membership.)


    June 27, 2008 at 9:54 am

  4. Well, I certainly wasn’t trying to defend Mugabe, by all standards he has done a terrible job running his country both economically and in terms of human rights. Though it should be noted that of course other repressive undemocratic regimes are going to make a show of criticizing Mugabe…it makes them look good. Libya was not pressured over domestic issues (and they’re still not even a pretend democracy,) they were pressured over their international conducts. Sanctions etc against repressive regimes just make things worse for the repressed, and rarely if ever accomplish anything good. I know there is a tremendous urge to “do something” about Mugabe, but the best course of action may be to do nothing, as a long history of well intentioned bloodbaths by people who felt they had to “do something” attests.


    June 30, 2008 at 9:34 pm

  5. I think in this case it’s a problem of perspective, and how we would be perceived is as or more important than how we perceive it. To a country with a history of colonial occupation, we would be the enemy, no matter how bad a dictator Mugabe is. It would be Somalia, or Iraq, all over again.

    I think we should engage with Zimbabwe’s neighbors.


    July 1, 2008 at 12:10 pm

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