The Dictator, dimE, and Africa

U.S.–Zimbabwe Policy Provides a Blueprint for Containing Rogue States During a Time of Limited Resources

Robert Mugabe — the 90-year-old despot, long time leader of Zimbabwe, and recently selected African Union chairman — takes every opportunity he can to deride the U.S. He has spoken out against the ‘imperialist’ U.S. throughout Africa and on the stage of the UN. The quintessential autocratic dictator remains a pesky thorn in our side. For many, the fact that he remains in power represents a failure of U.S. policy. While his existence may not be palatable to the western world writ large, a well-developed U.S strategy has limited his nefarious behavior and caused his influence to dwindle. He has been reduced to a silly old man spending his remaining years criticizing what he calls American imperialism. U.S. policy towards Zimbabwe, with no military force, and very little assets, has neutralized him. In an age of limited resources, U.S. policy towards Zimbabwe provides a blueprint for containing rogue states.

In an age of limited resources, U.S. policy towards Zimbabwe provides a blueprint for containing rogue states.

Mugabe is still revered throughout much of Africa as a liberator for standing up to perceived imperialist influence and meddling. In power since 1980, his rule has been marked by overtly dictatorial behaviors, such as voter intimidation and his forced land redistribution policy; where the government forced whites farmers from their land, giving the land to black Zimbabweans. These actions have tarnished his image as a liberator, instead marking him a tyrant. In response to his actions, the U.S. has implemented a sanction regime that includes targeted travel and trade restrictions on Mugabe and his close associates. The sanctions, however, do not prohibit normal trade with Zimbabwe, and more important they deliberately do not target the business elites of Zimbabwe. This selective targeting allows the U.S. to punish Mugabe, while not punishing those who help keep him in power. The U.S. is Zimbabwe’s number three importer, a fact not lost on Mugabe. U.S imports remain vital to Zimbabwe’s economy, and in doing so, serve as the perfect tool for influencing behavior. U.S imports are another ‘stick’ for the US to wave over Mugabe’s head. Prohibiting exports to Zimbabwe would have cost the U.S. both influence and a willing trading partner.

The U.S. conducts foreign policy within a construct that utilizes four broad elements of national power; diplomacy, information, military, and economic. Under this construct, known as DIME, the US Government utilizes these elements as levers, pushing and pulling on them to incentivize behavior by other states within the international system. In the case of Zimbabwe, US policy consists of using some D, some I, no M, and lots of E. This formula has effectively contained Mugabe and preserved regional stability, leaving him in power, yet preventing him from to extending his brand of tyranny throughout the region.

Recent experience shows it may be more effective to contain tyrants in a weakened state, as opposed to forcefully removing them from power and creating a vacuum of instability (e.g., Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya). Allowing a weakened tyrant to remain in power is an imperfect policy solution that threatens to violate the moral and political sensibilities of many in the West. However, in a resource-constrained environment, weakening tyrants and leaving them in power is far less costly than removing them and dealing with the uncertainty that follows.

Robert Mugabe is contained. He will continue to issue bombast about the U.S until the day he dies; but, a well-executed policy ensures it is nothing more than talk. A wise, coherent foreign policy toward Zimbabwe, heavily reliant on the ‘E,’ and avoiding the ‘M’ has proven to be the right recipe for containing Mugabe. In our new reality of constrained resources, and emerging rogue states, a foreign policy that utilizes more of the D, I, and E, as opposed to depending almost completely on the M, may be the recipe for success.

Jake Turner is an active duty Army Officer assigned to the Joint Staff. He has a BA in English from the University of Florida, a Masters in Policy Management from Georgetown University, and is completing a MS in Human Resources from the University of Louisville. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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