- SIMIAN SLAYER -
Joined: 15 May 2003
Location: Northwest Indiana
|Posted: Wed Apr 06, 2011 5:21 am Post subject: 'reverse beauty pageant' for tyrants
What if they gave a war and nobody came?" So goes a bumper sticker from the Vietnam War era. I've got an update in mind: What if they gave a war and nobody paid attention?
That thought has come to mind as I follow the war in the Ivory Coast that the developed world has found sadly easy to ignore.
If you appreciate democracy, the former French colony's president, Laurent Gbagbo, offers a lot to leave you outraged.
He was voted out of office on Nov. 28, but decided not to leave. International election observers, the United Nations and the African Union agree that his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, won and they want Gbagbo to go. Yet, Ouattara has been relegated to operating a government-in-exile in a hotel circled by tanks, razor wire and a U.N. force.
Unlike the situation in Libya, Ouattara has had a fairly disciplined rebel force on his side, waging a war to unseat Gbagbo at a cost of at least 400 lives and as many as a million refugees.
But that's not enough for the Ivory Coast to get much news coverage or attention in the United States. It is the Ivory Coast's misfortune to have little strategic value to America or our allies, except perhaps as the world's top cocoa producer.
Yet, with more than a dozen other elections scheduled for this year in sub-Sahara Africa, the survival of democracy in the Ivory Coast sends out important international signals. It shows how developing nations can avoid slipping back into an infamous post-colonial affliction known as "one person, one vote, one time."
That's what's happened with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who clings to power through torture and terror despite being voted out in 2008. Journalist Peter Godwin, a Zimbabwe native, describes in his new book, "The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe," how the former freedom fighter now commits old autocrat's tricks, like committing some of his worst atrocities when he knows the world is looking at bigger crises elsewhere.
As a result, Godwin says, pro-democracy movements in Africa and elsewhere are waging a "reverse beauty contest" — the uglier a tyrant's abuses, the more likely the pro-democracy movements will be rewarded with outside support.
Unfortunately, he writes, using an Olympic analogy, "Zimbabwe's body count earns us a mere bronze to Darfur's gold and Congo's silver."
What's a beleaguered freedom fighter to do? Americans care about our foreign neighbors, but our national attention span is as limited as our federal budget. A new poll finds that in light of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, Libya has a difficult time competing for our attention, even after the U.S. and our NATO allies launched combat operations there. Only 15 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said they were paying more attention to the Libya's military operation than other news stories.
To what were we paying attention? More than half — 57 percent — rated the Japanese disaster as the story they were following more closely than any other — even though most major news media were heralding Libya as the top story during the March 24-27 period when the survey was taken.
If Libya has trouble engaging Americans, even when U.S. bombs are dropping, what are democracy defenders in out-of-the-way places like Zimbabwe to do? They don't have oil or, as far as anyone knows, al-Qaida cells, the two biggest magnets for the West's attention since the Cold War.
In an NPR interview, Godwin brought up a suggestion made by his wife: "What you need is a celebrity."
If the public's obsession with stardom has any redeeming social value, it is in the attention celebrities bring to worthy causes and beleaguered countries. Darfur has had Mia Farrow, George Clooney and Don Cheadle. Haiti has Wyclef Jean and Sean Penn. The UN High Commission for Refugees has Angelina Jolie, who occasionally adopts orphans along the way.
Or you could take a tip from the old mid-1950s novel and movie, "The Mouse That Roared": Declare war on the United States, then quickly surrender. We can be quite generous to the countries that we conquer. At least it gets our attention.
Conservatism is a pale horse, and the riders should be called DEATH.