By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
What I would like to do -- not that you've asked -- is have a Predator drone circle over Robert Mugabe's luxurious villa until this monster of a dictator who has brought such misery to Zimbabwe runs screaming from his home and into the arms of his own people. What happens after that is none of my business.
I do not mean to sound harsh or cruel, but when I say that what happens to Mugabe is none of my business, it is because it already appears to be almost no one's business. The United States, along with much of the world, disapproves of him and has levied sanctions on his regime -- but nothing more than that. None of this has stopped him from killing, beating and jailing his opponents, ruining this once-verdant country so that people starve, medicines are rare and a cholera epidemic rages.
Zimbabwe has almost literally come apart. Mugabe, the onetime freedom fighter, expropriated the white-owned farms that were his country's breadbasket and awarded them to his cronies. He had something of an argument for doing so, since the farms themselves were the fruits of colonialism. Still, some time had passed, and appropriate compensation would have been nice.
It is Zimbabwe's misfortune that Mugabe's cronies are lousy farmers. Over the past eight years, agricultural production has fallen by four-fifths, and just about every economic catastrophe known to man has taken hold. Unemployment is so high (85 percent) that there is almost no such thing as employment, and the inflation rate, while a state secret, is estimated at beyond estimation -- in the billions of percent. In case you're not good with figures, that's high.
These calamities are certainly the work of one man. If Mugabe were gone, chances are the situation would improve -- although I am aware that removing Saddam Hussein initially made things worse in Iraq. I am aware, too, that deposing foreign leaders breaks all sorts of international understandings. Still, the man's a thug, and thugs should be dealt with.
I went back to John F. Kennedy's inaugural address for inspiration. This is the speech that is so often emulated, the one with all those ringing phrases. One of them -- the one that starts with the familiar "Let the word go forth" -- ends with a pledge to not "permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world." In other words, we were not going to put up with the likes of a Mugabe.
Kennedy's words were stirring, but they arguably led to our involvement in the Vietnam War and much else that was bad. The war in Iraq has taught the virtues of "realism" in foreign policy -- a term that often conceals cold indifference, or the asinine belief that knowing better is a form of colonialism.
Mugabe is no fool. He knows the fight has gone out of us. He has killed his opponents in broad daylight. He has tortured children. Last June, he went to Rome to attend a conference on famine, of all things, staying at the five-star Ambasciatori Palace Hotel. It was obscene, a finger to the world. The world tsk-tsked, and South Africa, the one state in the region with any muscle, has been vigorously ineffective. It preaches noninterference, which, lucky for it, was not what apartheid's international foes once preached.
In Zimbabwe, doctors and nurses protested the appalling conditions in the hospitals, and the police responded by beating some of them. The country is going backward at an astonishing rate. It has one of the world's lowest life expectancies (44 for men and 43 for women), and the number of women dying in childbirth has doubled in recent years. Now comes cholera -- preventable, curable but killing all the same. It is a disease, certainly, but also an indictment of a man who has led his country to ruin.
Condi Rice routinely condemns Mugabe. Much of the rest of the world does, too. Yet he persists, using his security forces and the wise dispersion of graft to remain in power. The example of Iraq forbids the United States to act. We are all realists now. Our grand cause is to have none at all. Still, a single Predator could do wonders. At the very least, it would lift the shame.