The Magazine

Mr. President, Liberate Zimbabwe

A good deed for Bush's final days.

Dec 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 14 • By JAMES KIRCHICK
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Mugabe has the backing of both Russia and China, meaning that, as with NATO's intervention in Bosnia, military action would have to be taken outside the parameters of the United Nations. With the vocal support of Botswana and Kenya, an American- and British-led force could work alongside African troops to decapitate the regime and facilitate the delivery of emergency aid and the installation of the duly elected government. The Zimbabwean military is poorly equipped and demoralized; last month, soldiers rioted in response to the government's failure to pay them on time (a task complicated by the fact that the country faces 231 million percent inflation). In the face of professional armies, many units would surrender or revolt against their commanders. "The [Zimbabwean] military would be very weak and have a difficult time in resisting any credible intervention," says J. Anthony Holmes, a former Foreign Service officer now with the Council on Foreign Relations.

A few days ago, I chatted online with the Zimbabwean fixer I worked with during a visit to the country in 2006. He has not been wanting for work. Since the March election, a steady stream of journalists has come to report on the stalled negotiations and needed his skills at ferrying them around the country, arranging interviews, and dodging military cordons and security operatives. But he finds the utter lack of political progress frustrating and the humanitarian situation unendurable. "I have given up," he says. He described the horrors he saw recently taking a French journalist to the cholera-infected area. "He cried," my friend told me.

"It is time for Robert Mugabe to go," Bush said last week, recognizing the growing momentum in favor of a humanitarian intervention to save Zimbabwe. "Across the continent, African voices are bravely speaking out to say now is the time for him to step down." Asked to reflect upon his legacy in an interview last month, Bush said, "I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace." In his final days in office, he could liberate millions more.

James Kirchick, who has reported from Zimbabwe, is an assistant editor at The New Republic.