Robert Mugabe’s best skill appears to be running with power. Taking the stage a day after renewing his leadership for five years during ZANU-PF’s party congress, headlines of factional infighting, tribal imbalance, and old age were whitewashed by war trumpets.
"We must begin to work for the party, never for personal egos.” he said on Sunday. “We must begin to organize our people for the party... must not be defeated like we were last year. We go back stronger, better focused party, ready and rearing to take the enemy who has sought our ruin."
While an opposing political party might be metaphorically termed “the enemy” in a democracy, Mugabe’s definition is literal. He perceives Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC is an existential threat to be resisted with all possible means - political, economic, and military.
Organized violence during Zimbabwe’s 2008 election and low-level violence thereafter, combined with government mismanagement, is the real Mugabe. University of Zimbabwe lecturer John Makumbe said the address showed Mugabe's desperation after 29 years in power.
"He was shouting and screaming about factionalism, but really he was saying 'we are dead' as a party,” Makumbe described. “Levels of hatred against Zanu-PF are so high among Zimbabweans that the congress is just a show and it is largely irrelevant to the future.”
While Makumbe may be correct in assessing the level of opposition to ZANU-PF, Mugabe is anything but irrelevant after 85 years. Desperation makes him all the more dangerous and hindsight isn’t needed to see what’s coming.
"Elections are not far off," he told ZANU's congress. "The inclusive government was given a short life. The remaining part of it is short. In fact it has lived more than half its life. May I state this clearly and categorically, as Zanu-PF the defense of our sovereignty rests with us and with no other. Any maneuvers to tamper with the forces will never be entertained by us."
Mugabe’s collective speeches amount to a declaration of war on Tsvangirai and MDC, had they not already been at war. If there is any advantage, at least the truth has been thrust into the open. Power-sharing is a dead-end. Either ZANU or MDC will ultimately emerge as the ruling power.
As such, ZANU must be expected to use every means possible to block MDC. Based on recent history and Mugabe’s “vision,” we have every reason to believe violence remains the key instrument to maintaining power. As a result, it’s time President Obama got his hands dirty in Zimbabwe.
Assuming that the next election will turn violent, America and the international community have three options. Ignoring Zimbabwe is always a possibility, but is this strategy the best of the worst, or worst of the best?
The term “ignoring” defines zero change on the ground. America deployed a barrage of diplomacy and economic sanctions at Mugabe as beat his way to power, but he remains in power and the MDC marginalized, easily predictable. Tsvangirai is surviving by an SADC thread, not Zimbabwe’s acting prime minister.
On one level leaving Zimbabwe alone makes sense - the same level why going into Somalia or Sudan is a gambit. These states must be stabilized for regional and international security, and America could very well profit individually, but the risk of doing so is exceptionally high.
Obama has so far chosen George Bush’s failed course. Granted he’s currently powerless to alter it. Zimbabwe is a relatively new hot spot and Obama has had no time to build a policy. America can’t afford to support a serious endeavor anyway, and commanding so many operations would be its own burden.
Afghanistan, Iran, and Zimbabwe don't mix.
But Obama has a problem - everything he said in his Nobel speech. He mentioned Zimbabwe, albeit briefly, because posture children for human rights abuse and political oppression are hard to ignore. Mugabe is a tyrant just like Saddam Hussein was. Doing nothing contradicts everything Obama advocated, especially standing up when it’s hard.
"Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war," he said. "The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo or repression in Burma = there must be consequences."
While ignoring Mugabe is pragmatic, the West's condonation contradicts everything America preaches to the Middle East, Africa, and world in general. Zimbabwe doesn’t qualify as a “just” war because Mugabe hasn’t directly attacked America, but because the suffering in Harare is unjust.
We’ve argued that Sudan, if any African state, justifies military/JSOC/CIA intervention because of its 2011 secessional election. This built-in deadline injects the conflict with an urgency not presence in Somalia, the DRC, or humanitarian crises like Zimbabwe.
But the prospect of Mugabe forcing elections in 2011 presents the same situation as Sudan.
If President Obama doesn’t do anything beyond what Bush chose to do, he can expect violence. He can expect bloodshed and death. He can expect Mugabe to hold onto power with his dying grasp, and equally so with those behind him. He can expect this black-eye to shine for six months or a year.
Mugabe wants to hold an election so that he can expel Tsvangirai, with the clear intent that he won’t share power again. Obama has two options here.
He can sponsor and oversee, directly or through the UN, Zimbabwe’s election. Tsvangirai has actually called for a UN election. If he wants it then Obama should make the attempt. Push the UN. Mugabe will resist, but isn’t that the point. What else is the UN for? Not resolving crises?
Back it up if worst comes to worst, and get the AU military involved. The thing about a fair election is that Mugabe would lose in a landslide. The UN failed to prevent a fair election in Afghanistan, but Tsvangirai would be the undisputed winner unlike Karzai. Zimbabwe isn't really at civil war, or any war.
Everyone wants to live in peace except those on top.
Two options are actually one. Hosting the election opens the probability of US/NATO troops, to protect the populace if Mugabe resists and eliminate the necessary targets to install Tsvangirai firmly in power. The presidency is, by the last election, rightfully his and should be after the next. Then sanctions can be lifted and the country can rebuild.
Naturally any military operation would be complex, and political science is based largely on theory. But bloodshed is inevitable without or without action.
The CIA and JSOC would go in first to protect Tsvangirai and open the door for multiple stages of action. Mugabe could be picked off by a drone, or seized by JSOC and tried in a Zimbabwe court; the army must be left intact as must as possible, with Mugabe's private militias disarmed.
If the head can’t be cut off, American military might along with arming elements of the MDC could be enough to rescue Zimbabwe. Just war isn't just about being attacked, but about having no other recourse.
There can be only one - Mugabe or Tsvangirai.