When President Obama announced the deployment of 100 U.S. military advisers to aid in the pursuit of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), reaction was swift. Michele Bachmann criticized "unnecessary foreign entanglements," while admitting, "I do not know enough about it to comment on it." Rush Limbaugh called the LRA "Christians" and accused Obama of sending American troops "to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda," before promising to do some "research on it."
In both cases, it is remarkable that public figures feel no hesitance -- no internal check of propriety or shame -- about offering opinions while admitting ignorance. A few minutes on the Internet would have sufficed.
The LRA is a brutal rebel group headed by a messianic madman. Its victims -- captured boys turned into soldiers, captured girls forced into sexual slavery, villagers put to the machete -- have been the focus of activism by Christian organizations and human rights groups for decades. These advocates suffer a disadvantage. Kony currently operates in the ungoverned vastness of the border region between the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Reports of atrocities generally come out in rumors and human rights reports, not in images that create political urgency. But Kony's crimes are vivid at close hand.
In the region, I talked to a boy forced by LRA rebels to execute his neighbors in order to break his ties with the past and to deaden his sympathy. I met a boy forced to bow in Kony's presence -- the rebel leader claims divinity -- but who dared to look up in curiosity. The LRA soldiers took out one of the boy's eyes in punishment.
Obama is not sending in troops to hunt Kony as we did Osama bin Laden -- though it must have been tempting. He is sending in 100 mostly special-operations forces to help coordinate the efforts of regional governments in protecting civilians and "removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony."