Intervention Mentality and the Spectacle of Joseph Kony

The modern world is a place of constructed images. With a globe shrunk by the forces of globalization, and communication made seemliness by technological advancement, information is produced in an instant and has the ability to reach greater masses than ever seen before. But under a regime of neo-liberalism, information is perpetually reworked into a commodity, and the prevailing images transform into a branded, advertising-based format. It holds a mirror up to the human being’s psychological working, tapping their fears and desires for monetary ends, and thus, advertised information is the essential driver of consumption, the engine of industry.

One of the more prevalent images in the current epoch is that of militarization. The armed forces now take part in Hollywood production (the recent film Act of Valor, for example), one of the top selling video game series, Call of Duty, promises the most authentic war experience, and the line between news and military action is blurred by the embedding of journalists in active units – a move that has the potential to disrupt objective reporting on the events that occur. Popular musicians appear in videos aimed at increasing the levels of military recruits, and the ever-changing military slogans enter common lexicon at a rapid pace. This conflation of military advertising is by no accident. Ever since the creation of so-called “military Keynesian”1 during the Cold War, the armed forces industry has risen to be one of the key sectors of both the US and global economy. The financial aspects of the military, be it the armament, logistics, or marketing sectors, are indeed a business, and they have a product to sell – war.

The military image is conducted upon the utilization of symbols that are branded as the Other, the enemy that threatens the sanctity or livelihood of the nation’s population. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the Other, portrayed in a manner that contrasted sharply with the domestic propaganda of the American Way of Life. The image of the USSR was used to sell to the American public unprecedented weapons build-up, violent interventions overseas, and the importance of US global supremacy. The largest post-Cold War conflict, the current War on Terror, saw Islamic fundamentalism – and centrally Osama Bin Laden – become the dominant symbol of evil, and it was used to justify expensive and needless wars, not to mention the rolling back of vital civil liberties on the home front.

Yet Bin Laden is now dead, and the wars rage on, unmoored from their symbolic context. Contrived justifications are wearing thin on a population growing wearing from the deaths, the costs, and the gruesome stories pouring forth from the television. With the branded image, war cannot exist, and without the war a dominant aspect of the economy is threatened to its very roots.

Enter Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army – a roving band of guerrilla fighters that consists primarily of kidnapped children-turned soldiers. Fueled by a curious combination of nationalism, Christianity, and occultism, Kony’s crimes – which include the aforementioned kidnappings and militarization of the youth, child sex slavery, and the massacring of civilian populations – have led to his indictment for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and his placement on the US’s list of known terrorists in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. While the horrors Kony have visited upon Uganda have been some of the egregious human rights abuses in the modern era, his forces have subsequently thinned out and have left Uganda, becoming scattered across the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.2  Regardless, this pivotal fact has not fazed an effective international campaign calling for the US to intervene into Uganda to finally fulfill the ICC’s mandate.

Kony 2012

On March 5, 2012, a thirty minute video titled simply “Kony 2012” was released on the social media platform Vimeo, a higher quality alternative to Youtube. In the short half hour running time, the viewer is given a crash course in the developed world’s opposition to Kony, including action kits to buy, campaigns to conduct, and requests to make of government leaders. Set to the tune of pop music and dubstep, the film’s primary mechanism for informing the viewer of the situation in Africa is the director, Jason Russell, explaining to his five year old son that Kony “is a bad guy.”

The video went viral immediately, with over 16 million views by the close of March. The aim of the film – “to make Kony famous” – was accomplished with unprecedented success, catapulting the warlord’s name one truly heard around the world. It’s an exciting prospect – thanks to the internet, the global citizenry can partake in a legitimate dialogue over problems facing the world and not be obstructed by geographical boundaries or racial and gender differences. It’s the latest event in a long line of actions derived from the modern era’s new technological prowess, following closely on the heels of the Obama election campaign, the Arab Spring revolutions, and Occupy Wall Street. But while these instances veer from the top-down (Obama’s treatment of new media forms) to the bottom-up (Arab Spring and OWS’s decentralized ethos), the true position of Kony 2012 and the Stop Kony movement that it spearheads has yet to be truly seen. There is gradually emerging evidence, however, that the campaign to raise awareness about Kony, while playing an essential role for the emergent global society, may be more in line with top-down procedures connected directly to the military establishment.

Mikaela Luttrell-Rowland, a program officer at Clark University’s Strassler Center” for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, has noted that the Kony 2012 film is conducted not as a thoughtful analysis; instead, she argues, it’s rooted in simplistic advertising-style systematics.3 Facts are cast aside for emotional appeals, and viewers are, in a way, talked down to as broad comparisons permeate social consciousness that equate Kony with Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. Such relations are inherently linked to a militarized mindset – while, yes, Kony, Hitler, and Bin Laden were and are violent figures, juxtaposing their images together simultaneously creates an aura of evil that, historically, has only been toppled by the utilization of military force. The enemy, keep in tune with wartime propaganda, is reconfigured in the national perception as the embodiment of evil, one that we, as a benevolent and enlightened populace, have a responsibility to unseat.

Such imagery-based maneuvering, especially the utilization of figures that have been the center of two of the US’s larger conflicts, could lead the Kony 2012 to be seen as an exercise in aspects of “pre-propaganda,” a little known yet effective procedure that helps condition a population into a certain mental framework. Jacque Ellul describe pre-propaganda’s function as helping to:

prepare man for a particular action, to make him sensitive to some influence, to get him into condition for the time when he will effectively, and without delay or hesitation, participate in an action. Seen from this angle, pre-propaganda does not have a precise ideological objective… It proceeds by psychological manipulations, by character modifications, by the creation of feelings or stereotypes useful when the time comes.4

The Stop Kony movement does carry with it a certain lack of concrete ideology. While the campaign does seek to raise awareness and to create a grassroots lobby to bringing Kony to justice before the close of 2012, the details are hidden behind vague terms such as “arrest,” and we are none the wiser as to what this truly details. Will it be, indeed, military intervention, or will it be some other action conducted in transnational comity? Perhaps the unwillingness to address such questions directly comes from the fact that much of the LRA consists of child soldiers and thus themselves the victims of human rights abuses. A conflict between well-trained Special Forces and children would certainly raise a few eyebrows.

It’s this very specter of international intervention that has caused some outcry against the film in Uganda – “Suggesting that the answer is more military action is just wrong,” says one blogger from the country.5  Other Ugandans have criticized the film’s presumptuous tone, noting that as time has gone on Kony’s forces have lost much of their might and have become scattered. A spokesman from the Uganda government went as far to state “It is totally misleading that the war is still in Uganda… I suspect that if that’s the impression that they are making, they are doing it only to garner increasing financial resources for their own agenda.” 6  Regardless, the anti-Kony movement is preparing to conduct a national “Cover the Night” campaign for late April, involving the plastering of high-visibility parts of US cities with awareness-raising posters.

So who are the organizations behind Kony 2012? As one would suspect, none of them are Ugandan institutions; instead, the coalition consists of powerful American bodies with deep pockets and political clout. Primarily, the organizations are Invisible Children, the Enough Project, and Resolve (Uganda).7  Invisible Children is the only one of the three which could be certifiably grassroots, being run by several young filmmakers who produced a 2006 documentary of the same name. However, Enough and Resolve “are closely related to one another and to the upper echelons of the US government’s foreign policy establishment.” 8

Michael Barker has observed the interrelated nature of the two organizations, writing in a piece for Swans Commentary that “the former acting executive director of Enough (Cory Smith) is the vice president of Resolve; while Peter Quaranto, one of the four individuals who founded Resolve with the aid of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, presently works in the office of the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Sudan.” Meanwhile, Resolve’s founding Executive Director Michael Poffenberger has worked at the USAID-funded Grassroots Reconciliation Group.

Enough, launched in 2007, is itself a joint project of two, well-entrenched political machines, the International Crisis Group (ICG) and the Center for American Progress (CAP),9 and is partnered with equally prolific international bodies such as Human Rights Watch, the Genocide Intervention Network, the aforementioned Grassroots Reconciliation Group, and the Save Darfur Coalition. Reflecting these partnerships, Enough’s governing body interlocks closely with quite a few of them – for example, the organization’s co-chair, John Prendegast, is an adviser to both the ICG and the Grassroots Reconciliation Group, a director for the Save Darfur Coalition, and an endorser of the Genocide Intervention Network. His co-chair, Gayle Smith, became a senior fellow at CAP after a time at USAID, the World Bank, and an advisory position at Save Darfur’s sister organization, Olympic Dreams for Darfur. These ties are certainly not indicative of sinister conspiracy; they do represent common interests in troubled reasons – yet one certainly has to ask what drives these interests. While a great deal of members surely are involved for altruistic reasons, a closer look at Enough’s parents, the ICG and CAP, reveal a connecting thread of militarized rhetoric and certainly deserve deeper scrutiny.

The origins of the ICG date back to the mid-1990s, when Mark Molloch Brown, a PR man turned World Bank vice president, was joined by Morton I. Abramowitz, a State Department official and board member of the International Rescue Committee to create a “conflict prevention” organization in (rather ironically) the build-up to the NATO airstrikes in Serbia. 10  The seed money was provided by the liberal billionaire philanthropist, who now has been a long-time fixture on the ICG’s executive committee. By the same token, his primary philanthropic vehicle, the transnational Open Society Institute (OSI) has been a longtime funder of the organization.

Sitting alongside Soros in the ICG’s administrative wings are a practical who’s who of the military and corporate establishments. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter, former Boeing executive Thomas Pickering, NAFTA negotiator Carla Hills, former International Monetary Fund deputy director Stanley Fischer, and former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark have all served the ICG in some capacity. Thus, it’s not surprising that by the organization’s own admission, the impetus behind their creation was to “persuade governments to do what it believes has to be done – if necessary by taking military measures.” 11

The ICG goes to great lengths to cloak their militarized viewpoint in a liberal and humanitarian veneer, aligning itself with the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P). Under R2P, a concept that has received the endorsement of Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, the World Federalists, and other transnational moderate bodies, [developed] nations have a responsibility to intervene in the affairs of [underdeveloped] countries or regions in order to ‘protect’ the population from human rights abuses – ignoring that frequently these very abuses stem from US military’s fist or from the imposition of Western economic models. The R2P doctrine was injected into transnational diplomacy following its drafting at the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which was chaired by the Australian politician Gareth Evans. Incidentally, Gareth Evans went on to act as president of the ICG.12

Despite its recognition from the foreign policy elite, the doctrine has been met with criticism by those who see the potentials for conflict of interest in its implementation. Noam Chomsky, in a talk given at the UN General Assembly, attacked the tendency for R2P adherents to act rather selectively in their invocations of the doctrine:

The natural interpretation of the timing gains support from the selectivity of application of R2P. There was of course no thought of applying the principle to the Iraq sanctions administered by the Security Council, condemned as “genocidal” by the two directors of the oil-for-food program, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, both of whom resigned in protest. Von Sponeck’s detailed study of the horrendous impact of the sanctions has been under a virtual ban in the US and UK, the primary agents of the programs. Similarly, there is no thought today of protection of the people of Gaza, also a UN responsibility, along with the rest of the “protected population” (under the Geneva Conventions), denied fundamental human rights.13

Chomsky goes on to point out that the R2P doctrine was never invoked during the crisis in East Timor, where Indonesian occupying forces (with US backing) were conducting ethnic cleansing against the region’s indigenous populations. Perhaps the silence was due to the fact that none other than Gareth Evans, at the time acting as Australia’s foreign minister, had signed lucrative contracts with the Indonesia government to drill in East Timor.14  Evans subsequently declared the Indonesian occupation as “irreversible” and flippantly commented that there were “zillions” of dollars to be made by the country’s joint oil programs.15

The Center for American Progress (CAP),16 on the other hand, is a relatively new US-based political advocacy organization, having been started in 2003 with financial backing from Hebert M. and Marion O. Sandler (the liberal philanthropists behind the investigative journalism non-profit, ProPublica). While Sandlers may have put up the money for CAP, it was John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff, who crafted the organization into a well-oiled political machine. Modeled on powerful right-wing institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, Podesta envisioned the CAP as a “think-tank on steroids”– its program follows closely with the consumer-propaganda mentality, hosting a “edgy website,” maintaining a daily-operating “war room” to crank out talking points, and the recruitment of “hundreds of fellows and scholars” to draw up policy recommendations.17

The CAP’s agenda is costly, yet the majority of its financial backers remain undisclosed by the organization. It is known, however, that they have received money from Wal-Mart,18 a corporation that been represented on Capital Hill by Podesta’s lobbying company, the Podesta Group.19  Major funding also comes, much like the ICG, from George Soros, with the OSI providing CAP with $30,000 in 2006 for “general support” and much more money ever since.20 Thus it’s not surprising that the OSI maintains high profile ties with the CAP: Morton H. Halperin, the director of the U.S. Advocacy at the Institute is a senior fellow at CAP;21 his son, David Halperin, is the senior VP of CAP’s subsidiary organization, Campus Progress. Furthermore, CAP is also funded in part by the Democracy Alliance,22 a consortium of high-profile liberal philanthropists that includes Drummond Pike (founder of the Tides Foundation), Robert H. Dugger (chief economist for the American Bankers Association), Gara LaMarche (former vice president of U.S. Programs at the OSI), and Soros himself on its membership rosters.

The CAP worked with another Soros-funded venture in 2007, MoveOn, as part of the pro-Democrat Party coalition, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI). A faux-grassroots movement that was taking its marching orders from inside the Washington Beltway, the AAEI utilized the rage surrounding the American offensive in Iraq as a rhetorical talking point to channel activists into support for Democrat political candidates. As journalist Matt Taibbi observed:

[M]uch of the [AAEI’s] leadership hails from a consulting firm called Hildebrand Tewes Consulting — whose partners Steve Hildebrand and Paul Tewes served as staffers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. … This is the kind of conflict of interest that would normally be an embarrassment in the activist community. … The really tragic thing about the Democratic surrender on Iraq is that it’s now all but guaranteed that the war will be off the table during the presidential campaign. Once again — it happened in 2002, 2004 and 2006 — the Democrats have essentially decided to rely on the voters to give them credit for being anti-war, despite the fact that, for all the noise they’ve made to the contrary, in the end they’ve done nothing but vote for war and cough up every dime they’ve been asked to give, every step of the way.23

In an extension of its support for Democrat Party politics, the CAP, much like MoveOn, was a primary supporter of the Obama campaign, working with yet another OSI-supported outfit, Media Matters, to launch a PR organization simply titled “Progressive Media.”24  Not surprisingly, veterans from the AAEI, Tom Matzzie and Tara McGuinness, were tapped to help run the operation. Subsequently CAP has operated quite closely with the administration, endorsing and campaigning for President Obama’s health care plan. Earlier, John Podesta himself had been selected to serve as co-chairman of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.25

Just as Matt Taibbi predicted, the utilization of anti-war rhetoric served only to capture the activist voting bloc, while expedited troop de-escalation and withdrawal was never even near the table. In an about-face characteristic of the Democratic Party as a whole, the CAP went from opposing Republican-led maneuvers in the Middle East to arguing for an increase in military efforts under Obama. Their recommendations for a more hawkish approach to Middle East policy came in a report titled “Sustainable Security in Afghanistan,” and was the subject of a CAP-hosted forum called “A New Way Forward in Afghanistan.” 26  In a complete evisceration of so-called progressive credentials, the report’s authors include Lawrence Korb, a director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Vice President of Operations at the defense contractor Raytheon; and Frederick Kagan, a senior scholar at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the notoriously militaristic Project for the New American Century.27

Contrasting sharply with the ICG and CAP, Invisible Children lacks direct ties to the transnational military establishment; its realm is far more grounded in the grassroots activist spectrum (although their board of directors includes Dave Karlman, who has been attached to the International Rescue Committee). 28  Acting in this grassroots space, Invisible Children – in contrast from the ICG and CAP – does not receive funding from the large liberal foundational complex. Instead, as a quick peruse through the organization’s financial statements (which, in a meaningful display of transparency, are posted for all to view on the Invisible Children’s website), the bulk of the funders are either individual donors, smaller businesses, schools, and religious organizations. With this funding, the Invisible Children organization has been able to conduct an impressive strategy that engages the population by hosting school events, protests, and arranging conservations with important policy-makers.

Aside from Dave Karlman, the overwhelming majority of Invisible Children staffers come from religious organizations or joined up following screenings of the film that launched the movement, Invisible Children. Religion plays an important role in the initial motivators behind Invisible Children’s Action; Jason Russell himself is an evangelical Christian and has acknowledged that his worldview is related to his charitable work.29  Thus, because of this, it has not been uncommon to see Christian missionaries, such as Living Waters International, at work with Invisible Children in Uganda on some of their more functional community-based programs, such as the repairing or construction of infrastructure that had been damaged during the war.

As Michael Barker and others have pointed out, one of the organizations that has been subsidizing Invisible Children is ProVision, an extension of the religious, right-wing National Christian Foundation.30  He notes that this combine has been a financial clearinghouse for a myriad of organizations that make up the tapestry of the evangelical community – including “The Family,” (also known as “The Fellowship”), a Washington D.C.-based religious organization that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Ironically, given the National Christian Foundation’s connection to Invisible Children, The Family itself has complicity in human rights abuses in Uganda: as reported by investigator Jeff Sharlet, a “core member” of the organization, the Uganda parliamentarian David Bahati, helped pushed forward the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill.”31  This act, which is still being debated in the Ugandan parliament, would make homosexuality a capital offense and punishable by death.

Not all of National Christian Foundation’s funding recipients are religious-oriented, however. A large portion of their money is marked for free-market think-tanks that lobby for neoliberal economic reforms; these include the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.32  While at first this may seem like a curious anomaly, the fact that a religious organization is supporting a certain economic platform is not a new phenomenon. The two have been essentially conjoined at the hip for much of modern American history – religious integration has been utilized as a perfect vehicle for economic imperialism and vice-versa.

One worthwhile study of this complex has been Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett’s Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil.33 In their sprawling work, the two authors have tracked an extensive history showing the often-indirect (but undeniable collusion) between the religious right (mainly Christian missionaries), progressive politicians and figureheads (such as the Rockefeller family) and US foreign policy agencies in bringing that unruly hotbed of Leftist, Central and South America, in line with American geopolitical and economic imperatives. Earlier still, the Rockefellers had already noted that religious work operated rather harmoniously with market prerogatives. Frederick Taylor Gates, the family’s administrator of philanthropic funding, took careful note that “Missionary enterprise, viewed solely from a commercial standpoint, is immensely profitable. From the point of view of means of subsistence for Americans, our import trade, traceable mainly to channels of intercourse opened by missionaries, is enormous.”34

One last important example of the relationship between religion and elite strategy is the case of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive yet powerful consortium of right-wing politicians, businessmen, and evangelical leaders. In the early 1980s the CNP was joined by Colonel Oliver North, who saw in the organization a potential cash-cow for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.35 The move proved to be wildly successful, and the evangelical community became an informal extension of US foreign policy in the south by providing both money and media coverage to help unseat the left-wing Sandinista government. Perhaps importantly, the CNP and the National Christian Foundation were established a mere six months apart and maintained an interlocking relationship between their founders.36 Furthermore, the Foundation maintained funding ties to Christian charities run by the sister of Nelson Bunker Hunt, one of the CNP’s original benefactors and one of North’s key Contra supporters.37  To show just how closely aligned this world is, Hunt was also found to be one of the primary financiers of missionary work in South America, much to the benefit of the Rockefeller family and the US government.38

Managing the Spectacle for Larger Ambitions

In bringing together the ICG, CAP, and Invisible Children together under a common rubric, a multi-tiered advocacy campaign is capable of being launched across normal class, ideological, and geographical divisions. At the top level, the ICG is capable of managing the flow of information coming from Uganda and can effectively craft policy recommendations on the actions that it sees fit. Likewise, CAP can work on the national level, and with its extensive relationship with the PR industry, drive a campaign while simultaneously conduct political lobbying. Invisible Children’s impact is primarily on a localized, community level, using clever campaigning to create a grassroots voice demanding action from the leaders in Washington. Working in tandem, a Spectacle is woven that promotes a singular mindset that, as discussed earlier, reflects the top-down pop consumer mentality of the society it was fomented in.

The Spectacle, in the hands of those who seek aggression, can be a powerful tool; it can overwhelm an opposition, as in the case of  the Iraq War, and one just has to turn on the television set to see the sabre-rattling being conducted towards Iran. Gerald Sussman, Professor of Urban Studies and Communications at Portland State University, has written that contrary to the ideas of many scholars, information – the cornerstone of the Spectacle39 – does not, in the modern epoch, have a neutral character:

In the consumer economy, the prevailing uses of processed data are not simply informational in character or designed as a public good… Rather they are primarily promotional, which involves a control of language in ways that displaces the value of general wisdom and “common sense” that historically emerged in sites where public conversation, debate, and consensus on necessities and meanings took place (the public sphere). 40

Kony 2012, by eschewing analysis and legitimate education in favor of easily digestible talking points and emotional appeals, creates a rather hollow framework that helps to undermine the complex conversations that must be had on the issue. The conditioning of society to consume hollow informational bits – a topic far beyond the scope of this article – allows a cohesive aura to be constructed, and the result in this case is the mass calls for what appears to indeed be an intervention in Uganda. A recent Reuters piece quotes John Campbell, an African specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, saying that the “campaign… definitively energizes the political level and that in turn energizes the diplomatic machine.”41  The article also quotes an official from the ICG, who notes that while the “campaign aims to harden the U.S.’s engagement in the fight against the LRA,” fears of the negative fallout from troop deaths could spell disaster for Obama in the upcoming electoral season.

The irony is that while the Kony awareness campaign is utilizing people power to pressure politicians into action, a great many players in the campaign are themselves members of the transnational foreign policy elite who operate outside of the White House. The ICG itself has already successfully utilized its standing in shaping President Obama’s policy towards Uganda; in 2010 it issued a report that recommended that the US government dispatch a team of specialists to help run an “intelligence platform” to centralize efforts between the country’s military and other regional armies. 42  The Obama administration, in a very under-reported move, did just that – and the Kony 2012 video proceeded to cite this as an example of people power interacting with their government.

This rise of interventionist mindset towards Africa follows closely on the heels of NATO’s excursion into Libya, situated at the northern edge of the continent. The Libyan venture, explained away to the US population as support for the country’s rebels seeking to unseat the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is a picture-perfect example of the R2P doctrine in action. Although, unlike the current Stop Kony campaign, it was not preceded by a seemingly politically engaged citizenry – it was a decision reached behind closed doors and far away from Congress. The primary catalyst for the excursion was one of Obama’s picks for his National Security Council, the self-proclaimed “humanitarian hawk” 43  Samantha Power. 44

Described by Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth as “[having] the president’s ear,” Power skyrocketed to prominence in 2003 after publishing A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which argued that the US government is the solution to much of the world’s problems. In crafting this argument, however, she curiously sidesteps instances where the US has been the catalyst for human rights abuses or simply obfuscates the nation’s complicity. Critic Edward Herman has observed that one such instance is the earlier-discussed mass extermination in East Timor: Power’s treatment of the crisis is limited to noting that “when… the oil-producing, anti-Communist Indonesia, invaded East Timor, killing between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians, the United States looked away” – ignoring that America “gave its approval, protected the aggression from any effective UN response… and greatly increased its arms aid to Indonesia, thereby facilitating the genocide.” 45  Regardless, Power’s work was heavily endorsed by the foreign policy establishment and during the year of its publication, was awarded the Council on Foreign Relation’s Arthur Ross Book Award.

Power’s position in the Obama administration has been dominated by an elite-centric and rather technocratic state of mind connected directly to managing the flow of information and leveraging propaganda in favor of government action. Her husband and longtime Obama confidant, Cass Sunstein, was also tapped for a governmental position after the election as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). OIRA is tasked with “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs,”46 something that may be unsettling when one takes into consideration their new director has argued in a college thesis that the government should “employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-’independent’ advocates to ‘cognitively infiltrate’ online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems ‘false conspiracy theories’ about the Government. ” The justification, he continues, is that actions deemed to be conspiratorial are good, as long as it serves the “greater good.” 47

In a similar vein, Power stated in a 2008 interview with Charlie Rose that controlling information would be required in the era of Obama, particularly when it came to the hope that US forces would be leaving Iraq – “Expectation calibration and expectation management is essential at home and internationally.”48  Following this statement, she proceeded to deny that the Obama presidency would be viewed as a wartime leadership – and in the process revealed her elite-centric view towards US supremacy:

Part of having a credible American leader again who is unimplicated with the war in Iraq who is very attractive to people around the world, is to somehow use that early wind at his back to try to extract commitments to patrol the commons, to actually deal with these broken people and broken places.

In other words, the presence of a commander-in-chief who is outside of what is normally perceived as the military establish will be more conductive to militarized behavior. She attaches this rhetoric to references to “broken people and broken places” – linking the military directly to humanitarian relief, while her belief in the necessity of “patrolling the commons” reveals a distinctive police mentality.

Power has deep ties to foreign policy complexes, including ones that are directly tied to the current “Stop Kony” campaign. In 1996 she was a policy analyst for the ICG, and she has been a director at the International Rescue Committee. She was the founding executive director of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy; the organization, which interlocks with the ICG through Morton Abramowitz, would go on to be involved in developing counter-insurgency doctrines during the War on Terror. 49  She is linked to the Investors against Genocide group – much like the Enough Project’s John Prendergast. Furthermore, Resolve lists her as a “LRA Strategy Power Player,” the group of politicians involved in the movement to intervene in Uganda.50

Samantha Power is certainly not the centerpiece of the humanitarian intervention complex – but she is indicative of the prevailing attitude that military force can be used for good. By repositioning it in a liberal context, it’s distanced from the neoconservative “Peace through Strength” diplomacy that the Left has so long castigated. Yet America (and the UN and NATO by extension) has, historically, been selective in its military offensives and interventions; where there are no economic gains to be had or geostrategic interests to be defended, the financial and physical costs of war have never been put to use. Thus, the flowery rhetoric about humanitarian intervention and “responsibility to protect” has to be taken lightly.

When one pulls back the cover behind the “Stop Kony” people power, the usual collusion of business and military can be found. The military advisers dispatched to Uganda on the ICG’s recommendations operate under the auspices of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the umbrella group overseeing all of the US’s actions on the African continent.51  While the creation of AFRICOM, which occurred under the George W. Bush administration, was shrouded in humanitarian overtones, it came about following a lobbying campaign conducted by the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG). 52  The AOPIG, in turn, is a consortium of representatives from the CIA, African oil companies, and other private interests. It is also linked to the Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies – an Israeli-based think-tank that seeks to “shift America’s dependency on oil from the Gulf nations — hostile towards Israel — to other parts of the world.”53 The AOPIG also has ties to the Free Africa Foundation, an African-oriented free-market advocacy group with its own connections to a network of US-based conservative foundations and think-tanks.54

The existence of AFRICOM and its connections hint at a wider geopolitical agenda. While we now veer into the area of conjecture, it is certainly interesting to observe that many have linked AFRICOM to the presence of Chinese petroleum interests on the African continent: “Officials say that Chinese efforts to exert its military influence in Africa have drawn the interest of U.S. military planners,” Fox News reported,55 while the BBC drew attention to the fact that “the US gets more than 10% of its oil from Africa and is worried about increased economic and diplomatic competition from China.” 56 Extrapolating from that, the Libyan intervention can be viewed in a new light: Gaddafi’s government had entered into an oil partnership with the China, providing the country with 3% of its oil needs in 2010.57 The Libyan rebels made a point to attack these Chinese oil installations, disrupting worker camps and breaking down the lines of communication. 58  Chinese African oil interests are not only limited to Libya; the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation also signed exploratory deals with the government of Somalia59 (another spot of interest for the US military), and has also been engaging in talks with Uganda’s up and coming oil industry.60

Regardless of the ultimate reason for AFRICOM and the surge in US interest on the African continent, many Africans have worried that the American command umbrella will lead to a militarization of the continent’s culture. “Africa is going to look at all its development efforts through the lens of the Pentagon. That’s a truly dangerous dimension. We don’t need militarisation of Africa, we don’t need securitisation of aid and development in Africa,” the BBC quoted Kenyan columnist Salim Lone as saying.61  This militarized mindset, driven by AFRICOM, is indivisibly linked to the Stop Kony movement through both logistics (the presence of military advisers) and rhetoric (the innocuous calls for the warlord’s arrest). It has the potential to serve further goals, beyond just the possible short-term gains of geopolitical interest, but also sets a precedent for future propaganda about the role of the military in alleviating humanitarian crises.

The election of President Obama was fueled, in large part, by the population’s disgust in war. Organizations capitalized on this sentiment, funneling discontent into a powerful voting bloc, and now the same organizations are pushing for military action with a citizenry – legitimately concerned with the plight of the world’s oppressed and exploited – acting as the primary vanguard of the movement. This is no small part thanks to a well-orchestrated management of the flows of information, rooted in a mental framework that is all pervasive throughout modern society. This is a byproduct of informational breakdown, the obfuscation of motivation, and the possibility for the elite to derive action from conditioned emotional responses. It is through oversimplification and ‘digestible’ sound bites and images that important and worthwhile education of human abuses and global affairs – things that must be known and discussed – can be transmuted into a space where the adage “War is Peace” rings true.

  1. “Military Keynesianism” refers to the methodology of utilizing military spending to inject money into the national economy, leading to a cozy relationship between the armed forces, the corporations that produce goods used by the armed forces, and the wings of the government that hold control over military activities. President Eisenhower immortalized the concept as the “military-industrial complex.” []
  2. Polly Curtis and Tom McCarthy, “Kony 2012: What’s the Real Story”, The Guardian, March 8, 2012 []
  3. Mikaela Luttrell-Rowland, “Consumerism Trumps Education”, Huffington Post March 11, 2012 []
  4. Jacque Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Vintage Books, 1965, pgs. 30-31 []
  5. Mike Pflanza, “Joseph Kony 2012: growing outrage in Uganda over film”, The Telegraph, March 8, 2012 []
  6. Ibid. []
  7. Michael Barker, “KONY 2012Swans Commentary March 26, 2012 []
  8. Ibid []
  9. About” Enough Project []
  10. Tom Hazeldine, “The North Atlantic Counsel: Complicity of the International Crisis Group”,  New Left Review, May-June 2010 []
  11. See Tom Hazeldine, “The North Atlantic Counsel: Complicity of the International Crisis Group“ []
  12. Michael Barker, “Imperial Crusader for Global Governance”, Swans Commentary, April 20, 2009 []
  13. Noam Chomsky,  “The Responsibility to Protect”,  Talk given at the UN General Assembly, New York City, July 23, 2009 []
  14. Edward S. Herman, David Petersen,  “The Responsibility to Protect, the International Criminal Court, and Foreign Policy in Focus: Subverting the UN Charter in the Name of Human Rights”,  MRZine, August 24, 2009 []
  15. Barker “Imperial Crusaders for Global Governance” []
  16. For more information the Center for American Progress, see my “Strange Contours: Resistance and the Manipulation of People PowerDissident Voice December 21, 2012 []
  17. Matt Bai,  “Notion Building”, The New York Times,  October 12, 2003 []
  18. John McCormmack,  Corporatism and the Center for American Progress, The Weekly Standard, October 20, 2010 []
  19. Justin Elliot, “Who’s Doing Mubarack’s Bidding in Washington?” Salon, January 28, 2011 []
  20. Various Open Society Institute reports []
  21. Halperin is also on the steering committee of the Democracy Coalition Project, an initiative of the Open Society Institute that works closely with the UN Democracy Caucus. []
  22. Jim VandeHei, Chris Cillizza, “A New Alliance of Democrats Spreads Funding”, The Washington Post, July 17, 2006 []
  23. Matt Taibbi, quoted in “Americans Against Escalation in Iraq”, Sourcewatch []
  24. John Strauber, “Progressive Media – A PR War Room for Obama”, March 28, 2009 []
  25. Sam Stein, “Obama, McCain Transition Efforts are Worlds Apart”, Huffington Post, October 8, 2008 []
  26. A New Way Forward in Afghanistan”, Center for American Progress, April 3, 2009 []
  27. The Project for the New American Century, or PNAC, had been a coalition of neoconservatives that had come together during the Clinton administration to lobby for an increase in military action to maintain global American supremacy – an outgrowth of the “Peace Through Strength” mentality that had been the hallmark of Reagan-era foreign policy. Over twenty members of the PNAC went on to serve in the administration of George W. Bush, whose foreign policy followed their recommendations very closely. []
  28. Barker, “Kony 2012” []
  29. “Jason Russell and Alex Harris – Liberty University Convocation” []
  30. Michael Barker, “Kony 2012” []
  31. The Secret Reach of ‘The Family’”, NPR interview between Terry Gross and Jeff Sharlet, November 24, 2009 []
  32. M. Reynolds, “Inside the #1 Religious Right Money Machine”, Political Cortex, October 29, 2006 []
  33. Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, Harper Collins, 1995 []
  34. E. Richard Brown, Rockefeller Medicine Men: Medicine and Capitalism in America, University of California Press, 1979 pg. 123 []
  35. This will be discussed in my forth-coming book on the history of American democracy promotion. []
  36. Reynolds, “Inside the #1 Religious Right Money Machine” []
  37. See Reynolds, “Inside the #1 Religious Right Money Machine” []
  38. See Colby and Dennett, Thy Will Be Done []
  39. The “Spectacle” referred to here is the superficiality of informational communication flows and mass media present in the age of advanced (or Late) capitalism. See Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Black & Red 2010 (reprint edition). Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri summarize Debord’s notion of the Spectacle as “an integrated and diffuse apparatus of images and ideas that produces and regulates public discourse and opinion.” Michael Hart and Antonio Negri, Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 321 []
  40. Gerald Sussman, Branding Democracy: U.S. Regime Change in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe, Peter Lang, 2010, pg. 11 []
  41. Peter Apps, “Seen by as seen by millions, will Uganda Kony video matter?” Reuters []
  42. LRA: A regional strategy beyond Killing Kony”,  International Crisis Group,  April 28, 2010 []
  43. Sholto Byrnes,  “Interview: Samantha Power“,  New Statesmen,  March 6, 2008 []
  44. Sheryl Gay Strolberg,  “Still Crusading, but Now on the Inside“,  The New York Times,  March 29, 2011 []
  45. Edward Herman,  “Response to Zinn on Samantha Power”,  ZNet,  August 27,  2007 []
  46. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs” []
  47. Glenn Greenwald,  “Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal“, Salon,  January 15, 2010 []
  48. Paul Street,  “‘Calibrating’ HOPE in the effort to “Patrol the Commons:” Samantha Power and the Hidden Imperial Reality of Barack Obama”,  ZNet,  February 25,  2008 []
  49. Tom Hayden,  “Harvard’s Humanitarian Hawks”.  The Nation,  July 14, 2007 []
  50. Samantha Power” []
  51. Thomas P.M. Barnett,  “Africom to Work Lord’s Resistance Army Problem With Uganda”, Time,  October 17, 2011 []
  52. “Ghana Oil – Seeking National or Some Personal Selfish Interests?” GhanaWeb,  February 1, 2010 []
  53. Paul-Michael Wihbey,” Africa Energy Intelligence, November 5, 2002 []
  54. One of the supporters of the Free Africa Foundation is Peter Ackerman, the managing director Rockport Capital Incorporated. Ackerman also holds deep ties to the US democracy promoting complex, acting as chairman of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, which is funded in party by the US government through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Ackerman’s further credentials include acting as the former chairman of Freedom House, which also receives funding from the NED. Furthermore, Ackerman is a board member of the libertarian CATO Institute. In a similar vein, the Free Africa Foundation’s president, George Ayittey – who is also a member of the African Oil Policy Initiative Group – is a scholar at the CATO Institute, while another Free Africa Foundation board member, Theodore J. Forstmann, serves on the board of both CATO and Freedom House. []
  55. Bush Approves New US Command in Africa”,  February 6, 2007 []
  56. US to get Africa command center”,  BBC News,  February 6, 2007 []
  57. Gaddafi’s fall threatens Chinese investments in Libya”,  Asia News,  August 24, 2011 []
  58. Leslie Hook and Geoff Dyer,  “Chinese oil interests attacked in Libya”,  Financial Times,  February 24, 2011 []
  59. Barney Jopson,  “Somalia Oil Deal for China”,  Financial Times,  July 13, 2007 []
  60. China’s State Oil Company in Talks for Uganda Refinery”,  Voice of America,  February 23, 2012 []
  61. Daniel Gordon,  “The Controversy Over Africom”, October 3, 2007 []

Edmund Berger is an independent writer and researcher from Louisville Kentucky, where he has been active in the pro-Palestinian movement. Read other articles by Edmund.