“Captain” misses the boat on MONUC

Confusing the Hutus and Tutsis is the least of the mistakes Ed Morrisey made in a post on the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning. Ostensibly he uses the new Human Rights Watch report on North Kivu as shaky foundation for an attack not only on the MONUC force, which he spuriously claims “has done little but act as observers as the situation has deteriorated,” but on UN peacekeeping in general, which he accuses of “successive failures.”

The “Captain” clearly values his talking points over any semblance of nuanced reporting or opinion. Even the most cursory research (we can suggest UN Dispatch’s new full-text RSS feed) would have revealed that UN workers in this incredibly complex conflict zone have been far more than “observers.” In fact, 81 UN peacekeepers have been killed as part of the mission in the DRC. Morrisey is not only being disrespectful to those who gave their lives to the mission but is insulting those who continue to put themselves in harm’s way as they try to pull the war-torn country together. Mark summarizes the situation (emphasis mine):

From 1998 to 2003 nearly 4 million people are thought to have perished in a civil war stoked by Congo’s neighbors….
For 37 years Mobutu Sesse Seko ruled Congo (then called Zaire) by enriching himself and impoverishing his citizens …. To prevent spoilers from undermining the [2003 peace] agreement, the Security Council authorized a deployment of peacekeepers …. These peacekeepers face grueling tasks. The country is the size of Western Europe, with few roads to support armored personnel carriers and other heavy military equipment. There were some setbacks. In 2004, an armed group overran UN forces and took over the town of Bukavu, killing many residents and looting their possessions. In response, the Security Council reinforced MONUC with additional 6,000 troops and expanded its mandate to ensure civilian protection. A newly emboldened Monuc force in Ituri began to experiment with more assertive peacekeeping tactics. Rather than simply provide protection to civilians and humanitarian workers, peacekeepers in Ituri sought to roll back militias by in aggressive tactical raids.

By 2005, MONUC’s most important task was deterring spoilers from undermining national elections planned for 2006. These elections, which took place in late July, were a logistical accomplishment of historical proportions. The United Nations registered some 25 million people throughout the country. Ballots were transported by truck, plane, helicopter and even canoe. 80% of the population voted, and after a runoff selected Joseph Kabila. For the first time in 40 years, the Congolese people had voted for in a multiparty election.

After years of war, the DRC remains a broken country. It consistently ranks near the top of Foreign Policy’s failed states index. Kabila’s government is unable to deliver basic services to most of its citizens and depends on foreign assistance. The largest, most expensive, and most accomplished peacekeeping mission in the world, however, continues to offer the Congolese people a blanket of protection while democracy takes root.

It should also be noted that the DRC only has 300 miles of roads despite being the size of Western Europe. Kivu alone is three times the size of Sierra Leone, where the UN had 13,000 peacekeepers.

Although we recommend it, Morrisey doesn’t have to tune in to UN Dispatch to get a less dogmatic view. In 2005, James Traub wrote a thorough and balanced piece about the situation in the DRC. If he doesn’t read the Times or the New Republic, he could have read Eric Shawn’s column for Fox News. In fact, he could have just read the full Human Rights Watch report. Their recommendations to MONUC and the UNHCR are a small section of a slate directed also at the Congolese government, the government of Rwanda, the “Forces of Laurent Nkunda,” the FDLR, and the “International Community.” And the report points out the difficulties MONUC faces:

MONUC had to redefine its role after the election to take account of the newly elected government. This process was particularly complicated in eastern Congo where Nkunda’s troops, officially part of the Congolese army, were engaged in military operations against the army, and where the FDLR was said to be a negative force to be eliminated, yet sometimes benefited from the tacit support of Congolese army soldiers.

and MONUC’s successes:

Observations and conversations of Human Rights Watch researchers with residents of North Kivu during 2006 and 2007 showed that most residents appreciated the protection afforded civilians by MONUC. In February, for example, MONUC peacekeepers escorted some 100 civilians to safety, sandwiched between two tanks, after Nkunda’s forces had attacked Katwiguru. Opinion surveys organized by international NGOs confirmed a general popular appreciation for MONUC efforts at protection.

To be sure, MONUC has been far from perfect. But it’s the height of hypocrisy to pen this post and then follow it up with a cry that we pay attention to the “facts” in Iraq (and an implicit ask for patience in a complex security situation).

I needn’t devote much space to Morrisey’s insane assault on peacekeeping in general (in fact, I’ll just rebut in parentheses: here and anecdotally here), but I would like to note that his choice to bash UNIFIL in particular is bizarre. Again, Mark is a rockstar:

[I]t is worth recalling that just one year ago a barrage of rockets rained down on northern Israel while thousands of Lebanese civilians became displaced by Israeli bombing. But through diplomacy at the UN, catastrophe was contained.