OpinionOp-Ed

Goldberg: Obama wears a white hat

ElectionsUnrest, Conflicts and WarReligion and BeliefPoliticsBarack ObamaCults and SectsChristianity

Weirdest Friday news dump ever.

Very late in the day on Oct. 14, the Obama administration released a lot of politically problematic information, including the news that the deficit for 2011 hit $1.3 trillion (the second biggest ever, after 2009) and that it's abandoning the CLASS Act, one of the more expensive and unwieldy appendages of "Obamacare."

One other thing: The White House announced we're putting boots on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa.

President Obama notified Congress that he's sending about 100 combat-equipped troops to advise African forces on how best to kill or capture (but hopefully kill) one of the truly hideous villains breathing today, Joseph Kony, and destroy his militia cult, the Lord's Resistance Army.

And Obama is absolutely right to do it.

The news was so sudden, unexpected and just plain odd that the reaction from both left and right has been hurried and confused. Many claims are simply wrong. For instance, the LRA is not a "Christian" militia. The LRA routinely burns down churches and slaughters the congregants, but usually not before raping and mutilating them.

Kony is a classic example of the charismatic terrorist cult leader. He blends indigenous witchcraft with bits of Christianity and Islam (soldiers pray the rosary and bow to Mecca) to brainwash his uneducated, terrified flock of hostages and child soldiers, many of whom were forced to murder their own parents.

Here's a graphic passage from a 2006 report from Christianity Today on the LRA:

"Under threat of death, LRA child soldiers attack villages, shooting and cutting off people's lips, ears, hands, feet, or breasts, at times force-feeding the severed body parts to victims' families. Some cut open the bellies of pregnant women and tear their babies out. Men and women are gang-raped. As a warning to those who might report them to Ugandan authorities, they bore holes in the lips of victims and padlock them shut. Victims are burned alive or beaten to death with machetes and clubs. The murderous task is considered properly executed only when the victim is mutilated beyond recognition."

It's also worth noting that Obama is acting in compliance with a bill unanimously passed by both houses of Congress in 2009, which called for "increased, comprehensive U.S. efforts to help mitigate and eliminate the threat posed by the LRA to civilians and regional stability."

Obama says that he's sending troops to protect our national security. Yes, the LRA is a terrorist group, but it's not at war with us. One could argue that improving our standing in Africa, particularly given China's rising influence and jihadism's spread, is a worthy foreign policy goal. But that's all a stretch, given Obama's past skepticism toward interventionism (as a presidential candidate, he said it was worth risking a potential genocide in Iraq to pull our troops as quickly as possible) and his almost incomprehensibly incoherent principles for where we should intervene (Libya, Yemen) and where we should not (Iran, Syria).

No, this is really just do-goodery, pure and simple.

And for that reason, the only serious argument against the deployment is that our troops are spread too thin to be distracted by charity work. It's a fair argument, and one that will rightly come up again when Democrats lobby for debilitating defense cuts.

Still, assuming the military can handle the load and the strategy's been properly vetted, the only reasons for the White House to be embarrassed have to do with its own convoluted rationales, precedents and political constituencies.

Under President George W. Bush, critics might have called this sort of thing an instance of "cowboy foreign policy." I never understood why the term was an insult. Cowboys do good when they can and where they can. They may not go looking for trouble, but they don't hide from it either. Yes, in movies and books, cowboys usually only shoot when somebody else has shot at them first. But every now and then a villain comes along who is so vile, so repugnant, so contrary to decency that the cowboy does what he has to do on the grounds that some men just need killing.

Joseph Kony strikes me as such a man.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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