Belmont Club

What if nobody recognized Robert Mugabe?

Robert who? The New Republic and Paul Wolfowitz have come up with the same idea. The James Kirchick at the New Republic argues that Robert Mugabe is only President of Zimbabwe because we believe him. But if we don’t, then what’s he going to do?

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, is the legitimately elected president of Zimbabwe. Or at least he should be. … So here’s a question for Senators Obama and McCain. Back in April, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer declared Tsvangirai the winner of the March 29th election, and certified that he won over 50% of the vote. Recognition of him as the duly elected president of Zimbabwe — with all of the diplomatic measures that would imply, specifically spelled out today in a New York Sun editorial — should have been forthcoming, yet the State Department has been reluctant to go that far. With Tsvangirai hiding in the Dutch Embassy for fear of his life, will either of you call upon the United States to recognize him as the elected president of Zimbabwe?

Paul Wolfowitz has less radical, but related idea. Give Zimbabwe a check only if Mugabe leaves. That way the bureaucracy’s next salary becomes conditional on Old Bob’s departure. Zimbabwe ain’t big enough for Mugabe and foreign aid.

The international community should commit – as publicly and urgently as possible – to provide substantial support if Mugabe relinquishes power. Even if Mr. Tsvangirai were to become president tomorrow he would still face a daunting set of problems: restoring an economy in which hyperinflation has effectively destroyed the currency and unemployment is a staggering 70%; getting emergency food aid to millions who are at risk of starvation and disease; promoting reconciliation after the terrible violence; and undoing Mugabe’s damaging policies, without engendering a violent backlash.

The international community should also say it will move rapidly to remove the burden of debts accumulated by the Mugabe regime and not force a new government to spend many months and precious human resources on the issue (as Liberia was forced to do to deal with the debts of Samuel Doe).

Given the strength and ruthlessness of the regime, change will not come easily. Nevertheless, developing a concrete vision for the future would help to rally the people of Zimbabwe around a long-term effort to achieve a peaceful transition. It would give Mr. Tsvangirai important negotiating leverage. And it could attract disaffected members of the regime.

It sounds like a great plan. But in order for it to work, those who decide to give Mugabe the cold shoulder should have confidence in the moral justness of their cause. Because even if the United States recognized Tsvangirai and developed countries closed their wallets to Mugabe, the rest of the “international community”, which is to say most members of the UN and every tinpot dictator on the planet, would continue to call the Zimbabwean dictator “Mr. President”. Mugabe would thereafter mount a soapbox and claim that while Tsvangirai was merely a “colonial puppet”, he was the People’s President. And this kind of ridiculous posturing may have an effect for as long as there are enough guilt-stricken intellectuals in the West who are willing to let their masochism get the better of their intellects; who are willing in spite of the evidence of their own eyes, to let unreason trump reason. Mugabe’s basis for legitimacy — and today his sole basis for legitimacy — is the Colonialism card. On the day the West sticks this card where the sun doesn’t shine in Robert Mugabe’s anatomy, the way will be open to the obvious: a Zimbabwe free of his tyranny.

The final scene at Robert Mugabe’s bunker.

Contribute to the Belmont Club.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member