The Kony question


In October 2011, President Obama sent 100 Special Forces advisers to Uganda to help the Ugandan army capture Joseph Kony, leader of the marauding Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Invisible Children's Jason Russell, in the viral video (80 million views) Kony 2012, said, "It was the first time in history that the United States took that kind of action because the people demanded it, not for self-defense but because it was right."

The Kony 2012 campaign has brought Obama's quiet deployment to prominent public attention. The campaign's goal is to make this monstrous criminal famous, and to pressure governments, especially the U.S. government, to increase efforts to bring Kony to justice and end the inhumanity of the LRA in Central Africa.

Joseph Kony is certainly an evil man who has perpetrated unimaginable suffering on hundreds of thousands of people, from displacement of villages to the brutalization of abducted children who have been turned into uniformed killers. But is he the business of the U.S. government?

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I believe that humanitarian military intervention can be justified. Neighbor-love applies to nations as well as to individuals. "Righteousness exalts a nation" (Proverbs 14:34). But the United States must be cautious about swooping in with our overwhelming military superiority wherever startling injustice comes to our attention. Is America the world's policeman? Are we the de facto world government?

Our government is responsible for protecting our people, and the Ugandan government for theirs. National neighbor-responsibility diminishes with distance and with diminishing feasibility of intervention, e.g., because of distance, terrain (dense jungle, open desert, tightly packed cities?), scale (small population-Libya 6.5 million-or large-Syria 22.5 million?), politics (is the country a superpower? Is there international co-operation?), and military considerations (are the bad guys well armed?). So we have no responsibility to invade China, no matter what the Chinese are doing, and Syria's neighbors have greater responsibility to stop the butchery there than we do.

"That's terrible; let's do something" is not a foreign policy and will ruin the nation that adopts it as one. But is the hunt for Joseph Kony a case of international neighbor-love or interventionist overreach? That's the Kony question.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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