Austin Bay

In late August 2008, Nkunda launched an offensive in North Kivu. He also began a political attack, talking about a bigger war against the Congolese government in Kinshasha -- a pan-Congo conflict. In the past two weeks, Nkunda's forces have smashed the Congolese Army in North Kivu. A small U.N. force controls North Kivu's capital, Goma, on the Rwanda-Congo border. U.N. forces in eastern Congo are stretched thin -- they must defend and aid at least a half-million refugees. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon forsees a "humanitarian catastrophe."

This tangled tale qualifies as a sketch merely suggesting eastern Congo's tragic complexities.

The United Nations' Congo operation epitomizes multilateralism and international action intended to stop slaughter, create justice, end theft and bring peace in a neglected corner of the world. Good words? Yes. Good intentions? Of course.

Transforming inspiring words and good intentions into on-the-ground operations is a sobering experience -- ask construction companies caught between the architect's design and the actual acreage. An insistent critique of U.S. foreign policy is that it isn't multilateral or sufficiently blessed by the "international community." However, "mulitilateral" and "international" have no magic in complicated killing fields like eastern Congo.

The U.N. peacekeeping effort has not been a waste, but like so many hard corners on the planet, eastern Congo's troubles have no solution, only various stopgap mitigation that may (we pray) ultimately seed positive change. That isn't very hopeful. It isn't inspiring. But it is reality -- a vexing reality that brings starry-eyed rhetoric back to earth.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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