After years of criticizing supposedly “unilateral” American military intervention in places like Iraq (where the U.S. was actually acting in concert with other countries, like Britain), Jimmy Carter is now suggesting that military action may be necessary to depose the dictator of the African nation of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe is blocking international assistance to his malnourished subjects, who are dying in droves in a cholera epidemic that Mugabe has concealed and claims does not exist.
Carter’s call to depose Mugabe is ironic, because as President, Carter paved the way for Mugabe’s blood-soaked dictatorship, which turned Zimbabwe, once a prosperous breadbasket, into one of the world’s poorest and hungriest countries. Dissidents’ wives and children are tortured and murdered, orphans are beaten, schools are turned into torture chambers, aid agencies that once fed thousands of starving people were kicked out of the country, and a cholera epidemic rages across the country, where life expectancy has plunged from around 60 years to less than 40.
When Zimbabwean voters overwhelmingly elected a racial-reconciliation government headed by the black bishop Abel Muzorewa in 1979, to replace the white-only regime that had governed the country, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to recommend an end to international sanctions against the new government, which was starved of funds and facing a bloody guerilla war led by Marxists like Mugabe, who was supported by North Korea. Carter ignored the vote, maintained sanctions against the new government, and supported Mugabe. His U.N. Ambassador, Andrew Young, effusively praised Mugabe, who had killed people simply for voting, saying that the only thing that bothered him about Mugabe was that he was “so damn incorruptible.”
Aided by U.S. sanctions, Mugabe soon took over the country, jailing Bishop Muzorewa. His North Korean-trained security forces then killed perhaps 25,000 members of the minority Ndebele tribe, forcing torture victims to sing praises to Mugabe even as they were savagely tortured, and forcing people to torture their own family members, sometimes to death. Guilty white liberals, who had lionized Mugabe as a saintly opponent of racism and representative of black Zimbabweans, did not know what to make of this, and either remained silent, or kept praising him. Mugabe’s government received billions of dollars in aid, which finally stopped after Mugabe destroyed his country’s economy by seizing the country’s white-owned commercial farms and giving them to his incompetent political cronies. More recently, Mugabe so mismanaged his country’s crumbling economy and infrastructure that an easily-preventable cholera epidemic broke out, killing thousands.
During his presidency, Carter was blind to Mugabe’s faults because he saw Mugabe through a prism of racial guilt, seeing a Third-World post-colonial conflict as a reenactment of the U.S. civil-rights movement.
President-elect Obama made a mistake of the same kind when he went to Kenya in 2006 to campaign for the unscrupulous socialist Raila Odinga against the pro-Western, democratically-elected government of President Mwai Kibaki. Odinga, a Luo tribesman, fanned the flames of ethnic hatred by milking the resentment of many of Kenya’s tribes against President Kibaki’s prosperous Kikuyu tribe. (The subsequent election, which Kibaki was declared to have won after likely election fraud, led to a violent ethnic conflict, and ethnic cleansing by Odinga supporters, that ended only when Kibaki appointed Odinga Prime Minister and ceded to him much of his presidential powers).
Obama apparently saw his meddling in the politics of another country as righting past racial wrongs, since Kibaki’s Kikuyu have historically fared better than Odinga’s economically-backward Luo tribe, which counted Obama’s father as a member. But Kenya is not America during the civil-rights movement, and it was foolhardy for Obama to meddle in African politics, just as it was foolhardy for Carter to do so three decades earlier in Zimbabawe. Fortunately, the man Obama supported (Odinga) does not appear to be as evil as the man Carter supported (Mugabe).