Earlier today, Adam Weinstein asked the following question:
The obvious stupid question is: Why can't we do both? Why can't we have hashtag activism to get people to give a shit about injustice in the world, while realizing that increased "awareness" by itself is pretty limited in what it can achieve... while having rough and ready warriors to shoot bad people in the face, while realizing that's a pretty terrible last option that's limited in what it can achieve?
How about neither?
Yes, there is a lot of hate on hashtag activism. But a lot of that criticism is valid. Speaking from my own experience in the humanitarian aid and Congress, a majority of the time, these campaigns generate a lot of short-term interest but nothing substantial in the long-run. Participants do what is asked of them at the time but their interest wanes unless another major development occurs.
Take a look at these social media trends for the Nigerian school girls, the Iranian Election in 2009-10, and Kony 2012. The results? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in as Iranian President anyway. Joseph Kony is still at large. The Nigerian schoolgirls remain kidnapped, although some headway was made.
What's the problem?
Social media campaigns, such as these, this one rest on the idea that policymakers and military leaders don't know about the issue or don't care. Neither assumption is true. There are entire departments at the State Department and the Pentagon dedicated to knowing the histories, conflicts, culture, and other specific details of every country in the world. Congress and the President all have access to that same information — a lot of it being extremely complex and nuanced.
Another reason these campaigns are only popular in short, passionate bursts is because they rely on emotional details and ask very little of laypeople other than to call or click. What's worse, nothing else, such as basic knowledge of the country, is required beyond merely caring. Situations like the kidnapped school girls or Joseph Kony are far more complex than 140 word opinions.
Knowledge and awareness on the part of leaders aren't the problem; a fundamental disagreement on whether or not to initiate complicated, unilateral military action is.
Rough and Ready Warriors
Not that long ago, there was a megalomaniac dictator that gassed people for a hobby among other things. We had a United States President who was none too happy. With little to no support from other countries, we invaded said country to "liberate" its people and spread democracy in the Middle East like glitter at a rave. But people didn't like the result.
That country was called Iraq; that President was George W. Bush; and that overwhelming negative public opinion was our own.
With that experience not quite in our nation's rear view mirror, it's no wonder that military and political leaders are extremely hesitant to go unilaterally busting into another country to bring back "our" girls. Our government prefers the stealthy drone program as a less costly, less dangerous alternative. Drones aren't feasible here.
Not only that, busting into Nigeria will create a very shaky precedent.
All over the world, there are monsters. Sometimes those monsters do crappy things to other human beings. As terrible as it is to recognize, most of the time nothing can be done to full address these tragedies. Is the United States going to be the international morals police? How are we going to decide to intervene? Will the power of Twitter make that decision? Our nation's budget? Congress? How are we going to reconcile our military action in the name of humanity with our own questionable record of privacy invasion and brutality? How many American lives are we prepared to risk?
Where does it end?
So, Adam, while you do raise two potential courses of action, neither is preferable. The first one doesn't hurt anything, but it doesn't do anything either. The second one is a course of action this country already experienced and didn't want.
Maybe the status quo works after all?