The return of Kony 2012

Invisible Children, the group that unleashed the social-media tsunami known as Kony 2012 last March, released a new video today, titled "Move"  that will provide plenty of material for both its supporters and all the haters. 

There's some evidence that the group has listened to criticisms of the original. Perhaps responding to attacks like Teju Cole's "White Savior Industrial Complex," the new video highlights the role of IC's Ugandan team members -- particularly Uganda country director Okot Jolly Andruvile, who is now described as the "true founder" of the group. The sequel also makes it clear that Kony is not actually in Uganda anymore, a fact, as Michael Wilkerson pointed out on the day it was released, the original left out. There's also an extended metaphor involving a slinky and plenty of the trademark shots of American kids running with banners that have so irritated critics of its previous videos.

The oddest thing about the video may be how much time it devotes to the circumstances leading up to co-founder Jason Russell's naked public meltdown in San Diego last year, including reality show-style behind-the-scenes footage of Invisible Children leadership meetings following the release of Kony 2012, during which Russell appears on the verge of tears over the criticism the group has received. According to the film's telling, it was the stress from the dozens of interviews Russell did as well as the unexpected negative feedback he received from some quarters that drove Russell over the edge.

I don't mean to be insensitive to whatever personal mental health issues Russell was facing and wouldn't bring this up if the group hadn't made it a centerpiece of the video, but it seems a bit unseemly for an organization dealing with child victims of mutilation and sexual assault to devote so much of its pitch to self-pity over some nasty blog posts. 

(I also might quibble with the video's argument that none of the critics of the video were people in the region effected. See this interview with Betty Bigombe, who personally negotiated with Kony during the 1990s and 2000s, or the efforts of groups like Uganda 2012.) 

All the  navel gazing is especially odd since, as IC notes near the end of the video, it can legitimately claim to have shifted the debate on this issue. Kony has been the subject of congressional hearings and the African Union has begun a new push to capture the warlord.  The video ends with a call for a rally in Washington on Nov. 17 to call for a global summit on stopping the LRA. (I might suggest that they also take the opportunity to question the Obama administration's habit of waiving sanctions on countries that employ child soldiers, but I suppose that would dilute the message.)

I have no doubt the rally will be well attended. Invisible Children has found a found a formula that works for generating support and attention. And while some of us might wish the group would turn its formidable operation on more immediately pressing crises, stopping Kony is certainly a worthy goal. But I think we can all agree we've heard enough about Jason Russell at this point.

For more of our earlier Kony 2012 coverage: See Michael Wilkerson's original post -- one of the first critical takes on the video -- and his later piece summing up the impact of the campaign. There was also David Rieff's full-throated denunciation and this nuanced take from Norbert Mao, who is featured in the new video.   


Mitt Romney channels Condi Rice in foreign-policy address

Mitt Romney may not have unveiled many new policy proposals in his foreign-policy address on Monday, but he did roll out a number of sound bites, including "hope is not a strategy." And one line in particular sounded quite familiar:

There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East-and it is not unique to that region. It is broadly felt by America's friends and allies in other parts of the world as well- in Europe, where Putin's Russia casts a long shadow over young democracies, and where our oldest allies have been told we are "pivoting" away from them ... in Asia and across the Pacific, where China's recent assertiveness is sending chills through the region ... and here in our own hemisphere, where our neighbors in Latin America want to resist the failed ideology of Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers and deepen ties with the United States on trade, energy, and security. But in all of these places, just as in the Middle East, the question is asked:  "Where does America stand?"

In her well-received Republican convention speech, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the question "Where does America stand?" a central theme of her remarks:

And we have seen once again that the desire for freedom is universal - as men and women in the Middle East demand it.  Yet, the promise of the Arab Spring is engulfed in uncertainty; internal strife and hostile neighbors are challenging the fragile democracy in Iraq; dictators in Iran and Syria butcher their own people and threaten the security of the region; China and Russia prevent a response; and all wonder,  "Where does America stand?"

Indeed that is the question of the moment- "Where does America stand?" When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question - clearly and unambiguously - the world is a chaotic and dangerous place.  The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer - we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them - we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom.

Romney continued to echo Rice in his subsequent statements, acknowledging that Americans have a touch of leadership fatigue but warning that America's enemies would eagerly fill the void if the United States leads "from behind" or fails to lead at all:

I know many Americans are asking a different question: "Why us?" I know many Americans are asking whether our country today-with our ailing economy, and our massive debt, and after 11 years at war-is still capable of leading. 

I believe that if America does not lead, others will-others who do not share our interests and our values-and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years.  I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America's great influence-wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively-to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better-not perfect, but better. 

Here's Rice:

And I know too that there is weariness - a sense that we have carried these burdens long enough. But if we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen - no one will lead and that will foster chaos -- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum. My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead - and one cannot lead from behind.

I've noted before that Rice's record differs sharply from Romney's campaign rhetoric on issues such as foreign aid, U.S.-Russian relations, North Korea's nuclear program, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But when it comes to a sweeping, high-level critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy, Romney apparently believes that Rice got it just right.

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