Alex Massie has said most of what should be said about Gerson’s new woe-is-Africa column, but I will add a few remarks. The irrepressible need to meddle, help and do good that Gerson is always trying to get other people to fulfill seems to require that he cluck his tongue at some insufficiently concerned villain, as if all that was needed to make the chaos of eastern Congo better was the necessary will and good intentions, and this time Britain and Germany have come in for particular scorn. Not content with damning a few Senators at a time, as he was doing over the last two years, and occasionally comparing himself to Shaftesbury, Gerson has graduated to collective guilt-tripping. German inaction, he says, is “particularly obscene,” which suggests that Gerson’s standard for moral obscenity is more than a little skewed.
Even by the incredibly elastic Joe Biden standard for when to launch humanitarian interventions (“where we can, we must”), Britain and Germany are not viable candidates, because they cannot realistically afford another overseas military mission at the present time. In any case, there is limited domestic political support for the missions they already have, and even less for new ones. If European nations are tiring of the mission in Afghanistan, which at least has some indirect relationship to their governments’ membership in NATO, who could think that they would be keen to plunge their soldiers into the confused situation in central Africa? This is something that does not trouble Gerson. Like McCain, Gerson treats issues entirely moralistically, and anyone who is not on board with his conscience-assuaging, ego-stroking activist agenda is a rotten villain, and that’s all there is to it. Besides coming across as annoying hectoring most of the time, this habit robs the attempted shaming of whatever power it might otherwise have, as Gerson tries to shame everyone about practically everything.
Rather than blustering and insisting that they must act, only to have insufficient resources and public support for the mission, these governments refuse to make a commitment they know they will be unable to honor and support for the long term. Better this, it seems to me, than the leap-before-you-look school of intervention that Gerson seems to prefer, which insists that a handful of governments send their forces to lands in which they have no significant interest right now and worry later about whether there are obtainable objectives, some satisfactory end-state within reach or the political consensus at home to sustain the mission for the many years that it will probably last.
Congo stands out as a country that has numerous deep, intractable problems. Its government in the west exercises limited control over much of the country, its army is ineffective in suppressing militias and foreign forces in its territory, and it is ringed by neighbors that have no scruples against fishing in its troubled waters. Kagame winks and nods at Nkunda’s rebels, but claims to have no control over them, while the government in Kinshasa has not done much, partly because it cannot do much, to strike at the surviving genocidaires. What will outside intervention do that is going to change this dynamic in a fundamental way? Even if Western states were willing and able to establish some buffer force to keep Nkunda in line, what would prevent that force from being pulled into a multi-sided conflict as the Nigerians were in Liberia? At what point would such a mission be deemed too costly or futile to continue? What would keep such a mission from becoming a near-permanent deployment? Obviously, at no point in his column does Gerson answer any of these questions, nor does he explain why the problems of central Africa should not be primarily the responsibility of the states involved and of the African Union.