April 4, 2011; Source: Daily Record | American presidents do not get to pick and choose the international crises that land on their Oval Office desks. President Obama inherited a war in Iraq, greatly expanded American involvement in Afghanistan, and more recently authorized a “kinetic” limited engagement in Libya. The president justified the U.S intervention in Libya, saying, "When the entire international community almost unanimously says that there is a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, we can't simply stand by we have to take some sort of action."
So why doesn’t the civil war in the Ivory Coast qualify for U.S. help, asks Gannett syndicated columnist DeWayne Wickham.
In November, Ivory Coast’s president, Laurent Gbagbo, lost the bid for presidency but refused to cede power to the winner, Alassane Ouattara. Although the African Union and the United Nations stood by Ouattara, Gbagbo refused to move and began using troops against his opponents. During the past several months, 90,000 people have left the country and another 500,000 have been internally displaced by violence. Some 1,600 French troops have intervened and taken over the airport, but the battles between Gbagbo’s army and Ouattara’s irregulars continues.
A representative of Human Rights Watch described the humanitarian situation as “critical and desperate” due to evidence of massacres of civilians by Gbagbo’s thugs and Outtara’s mixed collection of rebels. In one town alone, Duekoue, Caritas Internationalis (the Catholic Church’s relief agency) reports 1,000 people dead or missing. International Committee of the Red Cross workers collected bodies, many shot in the back of the head or hacked to death with machetes, from the bush and deposited them in a mass grave. The field coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières says that the looting and pillaging in the streets makes it too dangerous for their doctors to visit clinics and treat people in need.
International NGOs report being targeted by Gbagbo’s troops as “logistical supports” for Outtara’s forces. The Guardian reports the “systematic persecution and murder of foreign nationals” by Gbagbo forces. Some African NGOs echo Wickham’s question, “Why Libya and not Ivory Coast”.
This newswire isn’t a brief for intervention, but the contradictions are too difficult to ignore. Will the Ivory Coast be the next Rwanda that humanitarians worldwide will regret? Is it that Ivory Coast’s cocoa export mainstay is not as valuable as other nations’ natural resource contribution to the world economy? Much to ponder here for President Obama and for NGOs.—Rick Cohen