I had some correspondence with some friends over the past week wondering – particularly in light of apparent Chinese involvement – whether the US should do anything about the situation in Zimbabwe.
You can probably be excused for not following the activity in Zimbabwe last week. The short version is that the Zimbabwean army forced one candidate for the Presidency out of the race. The other leading candidate was already out of the country. And it appears that the current president is under some sort of house arrest.
The president of Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe. 93 years old, he has been president for 37 years. He firmly believes in socialism for the people, and a de facto monarchy for himself. He has managed to bankrupt a country that arguably could be one of the wealthiest on the continent of Africa. But, he’s growing old. And so, he’s been grooming his wife, Grace, to take his place. She is running for president against his vice president. Last week he fired vice president Mnangagwa, who fled to South Africa, signaling that he wanted his wife to follow him in the presidency.
The Zimbabwean army then acted and Grace Mugabe fled, later to turn up in the presidential palace with her husband. Both are now under “protection” of the army, a sort of “soft” coup, and many are calling for him to step down.
It’s been noted that China is, at least marginally, involved. Is the US involved? As it turns out, the US is not, not in the least. But, as I’ve sat and listened to various folks talk about what the US might or might not do, I keep coming back to one question, the question of core interests.
I recently had a chance to work with some Navy SEALs and who were conducting their final training prior to deploying overseas. Besides the obvious – they are an amazing collection of professionals, there is the fascinating problem of needing to be prepared to, well, cover the world. Despite what it may seem in the movies, deploying to one country (in Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc.,) is not the same as deploying to any other. There are a host of variables, not simply who you might be pursuing but also who you will be working with, related rules and regulations on what you can and can’t do and how you might be able to do those things, etc. Suffice it to say, they go through a great deal of training to get a very complicated set of problems into a manageable package and still be able to do what they need to do, wherever they need to do it.
In the course of this training and rehearsals, etc., there is a good deal of discussion about where the SEALs, and other US special operations personnel, are operating. Long and short, they are spread around the globe. According to a statement released by US Special Operations Command last June, US special operations personnel had been active in 137 countries around the world in the previous year.
But they’re not in Zimbabwe. In fact, there’s no US military presence in Zimbabwe to speak of. Our embassy is small, and our overall state of relations is limited. And the reasons are fairly simply: the government is totalitarian and destructive to its people. And while it’s true that we have, and do, deal with totalitarian governments when it’s in our interest, the simple truth is that dealing with President Mugabe has not been and is not now in our interest.
On July 4, 1821, President’s Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, in a speech delivered Congress, noted that “America… goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
Robert Mugabe is a monster. His wife would be as much of one. But they are not monsters that concern us.
It’s on our own interests that we must remain focused. We’re already – as the Commander of US Special Operations Command has noted in testimony before Congress – spread thin. The effort to rein in our activities and focus on core US interests is consistent with our founding principles; it’s also a practical and fiscal necessity.
Copyright 2017 Arrias