Ending a Reign of Fear
President Obama’s decision to send 100 military advisers to east and central Africa to help eliminate the menace of the Lord’s Resistance Army was immediately criticized by many of the same people who thought little of sending thousands of U.S. combat troops off to Iraq. That reaction says less about the mission’s wisdom than it does about the “defeat Obama at all costs” dysfunction of contemporary U.S. political discourse.
The L.R.A. began as a rebel movement in Uganda in 1987. Led by Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed “spokesperson” of God, the L.R.A. has carried on a two-decades-long rampage of rape, murder and child enslavement through northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Surely from a humanitarian perspective and according to just war teaching, this small contribution to ending the L.R.A.’s reign of terror is worth making. The cost to the United States is small. The risk to the advisors themselves is minimal. The possibility of being dragged into another geopolitical quagmire seems remote.
This modest commitment signals a deepening attention of U.S. foreign policy to humanitarian concerns and represents a second effort, after Libya, based on the international responsibility to protect, a new U.N. doctrine that calls for an appropriate, multilateral response to humanitarian crises when the sovereign authority is incapable of responding or is itself the culpable party. It is worth asking if other interests may have prompted this decision: there are significant oil reserves on tap in Uganda. U.S. support for Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni also demands continuing scrutiny. But putting an end to the L.R.A. will help bring stability to this troubled region and will mean at least that unarmed villagers will not have to live in fear any longer.
A Life Raft
While President Obama’s latest proposal to help homeowners will not solve the foreclosure crisis, it still could help a million homeowners who are “underwater”—that is, whose mortgage balance is larger than the current value of their home. The plan is a modest adjustment to the Home Affordable Refinance Program launched by the administration in 2009. That program failed to reach many borrowers, largely because lenders refused to participate. The aim of this new fix is to give homeowners who have steadily made payments an opportunity to refinance at the current low interest rates. Owners with up to 20 percent equity in their homes are eligible. Refinancing could give buyers a more affordable monthly payment and let them stay in their homes. It is a life raft for 10 percent of U.S. homeowners underwater, not a fix for all. Yet it is still worth doing.
Because its scope is limited to those who have made consecutive payments, the plan overcomes the objection to bailing out irresponsible buyers. This plan requires payment of the full loan. And it prevents the downward spiral that foreclosures initiate: ruining one’s credit rating and, in the worst cases, putting families onto the streets and in need of still more government services. It stabilizes neighborhoods, because foreclosures lessen the value of nearby properties and threaten safety for as long as homes stand vacant, waiting to be sold. The proposal also gives no credence to the myth that “the market” can solve the housing problem. The unbridled market caused the housing bubble and has not fixed it yet. In this tough struggle toward recovery, the prevention of a million foreclosures is a good deal.
Qaddafi’s End, a New Start
In the eyes of some, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi died as he had lived. To others, his unexplained killing is not a good start for the rebel government that will replace him.
True, Colonel Qaddafi’s reign degenerated into a time of terror, built around the leader’s ego rather than a government of institutions. But the tyrant’s fall was unique in that his killers carried cellphones and recorded their prey’s capture, torture and decomposing corpse with bullet holes in his torso and head.
There is an expectation that tyrants must die horribly, as if any other ending, like imprisonment, would ratify their crimes, and as if victims have earned the right to humiliate the corpse. But the definition of civilization—an advanced stage of human society—denies this. A society is judged on how it treats its weakest members.
In war it is better to capture than to kill. To kill a prisoner is a war crime, and in the Qaddafi case the United Nations has called for an inquiry. The head of Libya’s interim government, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, has promised an inquest. The Transitional National Council now faces the investigation of at least three murder cases: that of Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, the rebels’ top commander; of dozens massacred at the Mahari Hotel in Surt; and of Colonel Qaddafi himself. Certainly advisers from other countries could help establish a justice system in Libya. Unfortunately, the United States, though praised for its diplomatic handling of this rebellion, is not a moral exemplar when it comes to guaranteeing due legal process for enemies of the state.