Today, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Graca Machel announced that Zimbabwe had refused the trio, members of The Elders group, visas for a humanitarian visit. “I supported Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and I oppose suffering and misery,” the former American president said in Johannesburg. “But I am very sorry that we are unable to visit Zimbabwe.” Carter noted this was the first time he had been denied permission to enter a country.
And let that be a lesson to you, Mr. Carter. It is wonderful to say we should engage dictators, thugs, and assorted other criminals holding high office, but sometimes we need to step back and look at the effect of our actions. Often top-level discussions legitimize despicable leaders, like Robert Mugabe, or buy them time. Instead of talking with Zimbabwe’s president, we should be bringing him to justice, either in the courts of his own country or before an international tribunal.
Yet as awful as Mugabe is, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that he has at least performed an invaluable public service by giving Carter a lesson on the limits of engagement.
No doubt Mugabe’s tutorial will be lost on the always self-righteous Carter. But at least the rest of us can learn something valuable from this snub.