Friday, June 27, 2008

Is Zimbabwe a Distraction from Our Own Crimes?

We talk a lot about low voter turnout in America, and mourn the passing interest most Americans appear to take in politics at any level. But thanks (I guess) to Robert Mugabe for reminding us that the right not to vote is the flip side of that freedom. Many citizens in Zimbabwe can't exercise that choice today - they're being led to polls to cast their ballots in a sham single-candidate run-off.
Residents said they were forced to vote, threatened by violence, arson or roving bands of government supporters searching for those without an ink-stained finger.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the runoff citing a campaign of state-sponsored violence, said the results would "reflect only the fear of the people."

"What is happening today is not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation," he said at a news conference.

Unfortunately, it seems that the US and EU are talking "sanctions". The US State Department has had a policy of targeted sanctions towards key Zimbabwe businesses associated with or run by the Mugabe regime for the better part of the 21st century. The EU has such an extensive list of sanctions against the Mugabe regime that they can't enumerate what they would add.

History has shown that sanctions don't work. They're particularly impotent against "self-isolating dictators" of the Mugabe strike. Sanctions further isolate and impoverish populations, often turning their sentiment against their self-styled saviors. Franklin Foer cites of a study from the Institute of International Economics, which argues that sanctions have "worked" 23 percent of the time. Their criteria for "worked", however, does not take into account the suffering that sanctions inflict upon the population. Foer himself highlights the economic "collateral damage" done by sanctions levied against Yugoslavia and South Africa. Low estimates on the "side effects" of the economic sanctions against Iraq put the death toll at over 100,000, with high estimates pegging the death toll at over 2 million.

It's frustrating to Westerners to accept that perhaps we can't be The Great White Hope that saves Zimbabwe. But that's reality. It's heartbreaking to watch from afar. But the restoration of democracy is in the hands of Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC, who are straddling the line of rebellion in hopes of minimizing bloodshed against their supporters.

Meanwhile, as Professor Gerald Horne reminds us, our own country continues to wage a war that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Does anyone outside of wonkish circles know what a bloody week this has been in Iraq for both US soldiers and Iraqis? Odds are they don't, because the media isn't telling them.

I don't blame the media for reporting on Zimbabwe; they need to. The American press is notable in world journalism for its lack of attention to what happens outside of our borders. But is it merely coincidental that the press is reporting in depth on a tragedy we can't affect, while ignoring the tragedy we can?