Heart Of Darkness

Anyone who has been paying any attention to world affairs will by now have heard of the traffic “accident” Friday in which Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was injured, and his wife killed.

Tsvangirai has been a thorn in dictator Robert Mugabe’s side since leaving the ruling party, Zanu-PF, in the early 1990’s. Since then he has been, on various occasions, arrested, tortured and driven into exile, and has survived several attempts on his life. The brutal megalomaniac Mugabe, bowing to domestic and international pressure, grudgingly agreed to accept Tsvangirai as his PM a few months ago, but obviously wants him dead, and this latest misfortune can hardly be anything but a deliberate attack. (Indeed, even if Mr. Tsvangirai were to be struck by lightning it would be hard to imagine that it wasn’t somehow Mugabe’s doing.)

Given that this is so transparently another try by Mugabe to rid himself of his brave and persistent foe, it will be interesting to see how things go from here. The fact that Tsvangirai’s wife Susan was killed in this latest assassination attempt may add a sensational, emotional dimension that could get the attention of a world that has so far had too many other things on its mind to care much about the tragedy of Zimbabwe.

Or not.


  1. the one eyed man says

    If there is a case to be made for the forcible removal of a state leader, Mugabe would be the poster child. Some regimes are so odious that they do not deserve the protections of sovereignty. In an ideal world, UN soldiers or a group of soldiers from other African countries would force him into a helicopter and take him to a desert island. However, that is about as likely as you watching me compete in the Master’s Tournament next month.

    However, if you can’t get the world body or a group of peers to force him out, I’m not sure what the answer is. I wouldn’t be comfortable with, for example, the leaders of the US, England, and France sending in a military force. It smacks of colonialism, and I don’t think that power and wealth alone give nations the right to determine which leaders should forcibly be removed from office. My guess is that Mugabe will ultimately succeed in killing Tsvangirai, and his martyrdom will cause an uprising which leads the Mugabe government to fall, just as Idi Amin’s depredations ultimately caused his ministers to flee the country and his government to collapse.

    Posted March 7, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    I am in complete agreement with you that some regimes “are so odious that they do not deserve the protections of sovereignty.” Indeed, I thought the Saddam Hussein regime was a perfect example, if ever there was one.

    I disagree with you though, that if some “world body” (i.e, the United Nations: I assume the WWF or the World Poker Tour isn’t what you have in mind) or “group of peers” (i.e., fellow African despots) won’t act, then nobody should. But you must have noticed that such groups almost never do anything at all.

    What you are saying, then, is that the few nations that actually have the power, conscience, and will to do something about such monstrous tyrants should simply abandon captive populations to their subjugation and torment, for fear of “smacking of colonialism”.

    Are you sure you really mean that? There are, to be sure, plenty of practical, self-interested reasons why a nation like the US might not want to spend its “blood and treasure” delivering a lot of Africans from evil, but it’s hard for me to see any moral ones.

    Posted March 7, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
  3. chris g says

    Under his regime currency inflation has been a problem. Someone I know coined the term “mugabillion” – for when the words billion and trillion aren’t enough.

    Posted March 7, 2009 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  4. the one eyed man says

    I think the invasion of Iraq is the perfect example of why one or several states ought not to forcibly remove an odious dictator from power: we created a situation far worse than the one we replaced. As bad as Saddam was, Iraq before the invasion was a better place than it is now. With hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, wounded, or widowed; over a million forced to flee the country; the infrastructure destroyed; and the country ruined for a generation or more, it’s hard to make the case that removing him from power did any good for Iraq. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the loss of American blood, treasure, and prestige, a resurgent (and soon to be nuclear) Iran, the destabilization of the Middle East, and the rise of Islamic radicalism which were direct results of the invasion. Unintended consequences have a habit of making a hash of the best laid plans of mice and men.

    I would also argue that we did not invade Iraq because Saddam was a bad man. We invaded Iraq because we (falsely) thought that he had weapons of mass destruction. So you have the issue of removing a tyrant from power as a pretext for something else, which in this case was a blunder of massive proportions.

    You could argue that these are practical considerations and not moral ones, or the problem was the fecklessness of the Bush administration. However, I think this is a distinction without a difference. What sounds good on paper before an invasion often turns into disaster. I’m hard-pressed to think of an instance where an American invasion to remove a tyrant was a net success. I think there are good reasons why we left Castro in power. Our efforts to remove people like Allende and the Sandinistas from power were disastrous.

    However, it is a very different matter when nations act in concert to end tyranny. I would cite the NATO campaign in Serbia and Bosnia as an example: Western European countries, with American support, forcibly ended ethnic cleansing and removed Milosevic from power.

    The difference is that a single nation (or, in the case of Iraq, America and England along with the other countries which were bullied into sending token forces) is much more likely to wreak havoc instead of improve lives, or to invade under a false pretext as we did in Iraq. I also think that a group of nations acting in concert (e.g., NATO) has a moral authority which a single nation does not have. That is why I think that there is a moral case to be made that a UN-supervised military action in Zimbabwe, or one which is supervised by other African nations, is a much stronger case than if we were to do it alone.

    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:22 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Well, Peter, we’ve been over Iraq many times before, and I don’t want to rehash it all now. If you really think, as you seem to, that the world, and Iraq, would be better off if Saddam had been left in power, I’ll probably never be able to disabuse you of the notion.

    But do you really think that if all can’t act in concert to deliver a tormented and bleeding nation from the vicious tyranny of a murderous psychopath, then nobody should? I simply cannot agree with that.

    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    Regarding Iraq: I think that the truth of what I wrote is self-evident, so we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    Regarding Zimbabwe: I think that in theory an American invasion of Zimbabwe might be plausible, but our past experiences in attempting this sort of thing alone have mostly (or always: can you think of an exception?) ended in disaster, which ought to put us in the penalty box for years to come.

    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    It’s hardly self-evident to me that everyone, in particular Iraq, would better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power. Nor did we invade Iraq “alone”. So yes, we disagree.

    So we must put ourselves in the penalty box, and as an act of contrition, we will let Mugabe brutalize his people all he wants.

    Posted March 8, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    Does Iraq have a better government now than it did under Saddam? Yes. Is the improvement in government worth the massive death and destruction — combined with the destabilization of the Middle East, the rise of Iran, the loss of American moral authority, and the recruiting tool it provided to Islamic terrorists — which were the direct result of the invasion and occupation? In my view: absolutely not. Many, many more people died, were wounded, or lost their spouse or parent as a result of the invasion than would have had Saddam remained in power. I just don’t see how the improvement in government justifies death and destruction on such a massive scale, let alone the awful geopolitical consequences of the invasion.

    Thomas Ricks, who won the Pulitzer prize for Fiasco, was on television a few days ago promoting his new book, which ends with a quote from General Odierno saying that what we will remember about Iraq hasn’t happened yet. In Ricks’s view, there is no reasonable probability of a sustainable democracy in Iraq absent the perpetual presence of American troops, and the best case scenario for is to have another strongman, a Saddam lite. The worst case scenario is civil war or a regional war in the Middle East.

    We obviously don’t yet know how things will turn out, and we may not be able to form a full judgment in our lifetimes. As Chiang Kai Shek famously observed when asked about the French Revolution: “it’s too early to know.” However, based on what we know now, I don’t see how the enormous human cost of the invasion, which far eclipses anything Saddam could have done, justifies any good which may come from our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    Posted March 8, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    Further evidence, if any were needed:


    Posted March 8, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    We obviously don’t yet know how things will turn out, and we may not be able to form a full judgment in our lifetimes.

    It seems, though, that you have your mind already made up!

    I’m not going to get into another interminable argument with you about whether there was ample justification, on both moral and strategic grounds, to oust Saddam; I think there most certainly was, and you don’t. I do not disagree that we made a sloppy mess of things. War is often a sloppy mess, but this was, I think, far worse than it needed to be. But if Saddam Hussein’s brutal subjugation of Iraq didn’t rise to the level of being “so odious” that it didn’t deserve the protection of sovereignty, then nothing does. And that’s the point.

    What you have said above is that even when such a situation arises — a vicious psychopath manages, through a campaign of murder and intimidation, to take an entire nation hostage; to treat its people as prisoners, slaves, and chattel while inflicting upon them torture, mass slaughter, and even genocide; to menace and attack his neighbors; and to thumb his nose at the community of nations — even then, you say, nothing should be done without the approval of “peers” or a “world body”.

    What this means, then, is that you think the moral case is a matter of consensus. But what happens in the real world, as with both Saddam and Mugabe, is that such despots will make sufficiently profitable and attractive overtures to other rulers that such a consensus does not form.

    Mind you, I am not saying the US should now invade Zimbabwe, though I wouldn’t protest very loudly if we did act to depose this evil man. And certainly if we are going to take on such responsibilities, we owe it to all parties to take them seriously, and not make matters worse.

    But does it really seem right to you that there is moral justification to remove a despicable tyrant only if he hasn’t managed to bribe enough people to block a UN mandate?

    Posted March 8, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  11. If Mugabe were white, the world would have found a way to get rid of him ages ago, like they did to his benevolent predecessor, Ian Smith. As it is, the “world” is more worried, like “the one-eyed man”, about colonialism. It is far better that Zimbabwe have a vicious dictator, so long as he’s black, than that anyone should do anything about it.

    Posted March 8, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says

    1) “It seems, though, that you have your mind already made up!” Well, no. That’s why “based on what we know now” is included as a qualifier.

    2) A moral case to invade a sovereign country is indeed a matter of consensus. Russia invaded Chechnya because Putin said that its leader was committing atrocities. He made a similar argument when Russia invaded Georgia. Requiring consensus is a restraint on the natural inclination of (some) nations to invade other nations by using the “liberation” of its inhabitants as a pretext for other motives.

    3) The invasion of Iraq is inherently immoral because the stated casus belli was to pre-emptively invade Iraq because they had WMD, which they would pass along to terrorists. I think pre-emptive war is inherently immoral unless there is a clear and immediate danger, which of course was not the case in Iraq. The immorality-o-meter went off the charts when it turned out that such weapons did not exist.

    4) Had the casus belli been to remove a dictator, the war would still be immoral because we ended up making things far worse than they were before we shocked and awed. In order for your argument to hold, one must also believe that Saddam represented such absolute evil that his reign was worse than all other possibilities. This is not the case: some things are worse than living under a tyrant, and among these is the situation in Iraq since 2003. When the level of death and destruction during the occupation far exceeds that of Saddam’s rule, I think it is hard to say that it is preferable to living under Saddam. I included the cite about the bombing yesterday to make the point that since the invasion, Iraqi citizens have lived in a state of terror, as they have the reasonable fear that they or their children will die in a sudden act of violence as they walk down the street or shop in the market. As bad as things were under Saddam, I don’t think anybody thought twice about going about one’s daily life, or worried that their kids wouldn’t get home from school. I don’t pretend that things were hunky dory under Saddam, but they have been a whole lot worse since he was deposed. For that reason, the war is immoral.

    5) The logical question to ask is whether the war would have been moral had a) the casus belli been to depose a tyrant and b) the results were the opposite of what actually happened. Let’s suppose that we invaded, very few people died, a democracy took root Sunni and Shia sang Kumbaya, and a thousand flowers bloomed. Would the war then have been moral? I suppose in that case it would have been moral. However, since neither a) nor b) apply here, the putative morality of invading Iraq is in the realm of theory and not terra firma.

    Posted March 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    No, Peter, I think you have it entirely wrong.

    As for the Bush administration’s casus belli (if you insist, as you appear to do; it would be nice, someday, if every discussion of world affairs didn’t have to turn into the same wearisome argument about Iraq): if they wanted to do the right thing for the wrong reason, that is still better than not doing it at all. And it is not as if there was not good reason in 2003 to imagine, as all the world’s intelligence communities did, that Saddam possessed fearsome weapons. He had already used them against both the Iranians and his own people, after all.

    But here’s the real point: when a brutal psychopath has taken an entire nation prisoner, and is butchering its people and despoiling it as his personal fiefdom, a moral case exists to do something about it. If other nations have been so corrupted as to prefer back-channel profiteering, or dictator-club cronyism, to morally justifiable action, that most certainly does not mean that it is morally right for others who have the power to act to look the other way. As Thoreau said: ”Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.”

    As bad as things were under Saddam, I don’t think anybody thought twice about going about one’s daily life…

    Certainly the people in the dungeons and mass graves didn’t. As for the rest, yep, just keep your head down, your mouth shut, try to keep clear of the secret police, and not worry too much about your dead or missing relatives. Skittles and beer, basically. Nothing we need to trouble ourselves about.

    Posted March 8, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink
  14. JK says

    I’m purposely avoiding whether we should or should not have invaded Iraq. A small qualifier, just the matter of timing.

    However I will say, Saddam was heading toward his “natural end of days” and it is this line of thought where things get mighty tricky. There seems to have been no clearly defined line of succession, indeed no “process” like even the nutcase North Koreans managed to adopt.

    Civil war would almost certainly have resulted. A Middle-Eastern civil war in these times is a particularly worrisome “thought-experiment.” I personally feel that given the “property line constraints” spillover would have been inevitable. Iran perhaps would not have benefitted as easily as they appear at present to have done – but make no mistake – Iran’s abilities to pursue whatever it wished to pursue would have been far less constrained than what the present state of affairs would have permitted. Had an unfettered Iran been left to carry on “experiments” while the world was focused on the unfolding events occurring in the areas west of the Persian Gulf…

    Well, I firmly believe the US would have been engaged, regardless. But, as I “think experiment” with the prospect, (given the admittedly poor planning and strategy) a far more odious situation than the one we find ourselves currently in, was more likely than not.

    Posted March 10, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

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