Actor Ben Affleck - founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative - told me this morning on "This Week" that the United States can do "a huge amount" to help resolve the violent conflict in war-torn Congo that flared up as rebels seized control of the eastern city of Goma last week.
"There's a huge amount that the U.S. can do, frankly. I mean, we have a lot of levers there. We can engage in the kind of high-level, shuttle diplomacy that you saw be so effective in Gaza," said Affleck, who expressed concern about the deteriorating conditions in the central African nation.
"I mean, one of the things we're hearing from our people there is that the schools that we fund, people are hiding out in. The hospitals are completely overwhelmed. They're offering free care for war victims. A shell just hit a camp and paralyzed a 5-year-old boy from the neck down. So you're hearing all kinds of - the kinds of brutal, terrible stuff that you hear about," Affleck said earlier in the interview.
Affleck was joined by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who argued that the United States - tied up at the moment by recent events in the Middle East - can and should exert influence in the troubled region in Africa.
"Well, we have a lot of influence in the region. I just want to emphasize that we are in a position to make a difference there," Smith said. "We have built relationships with Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, a lot of it around Somalia, Al-Shabaab, Lord's Resistance Army coming out of Uganda. We have influence in the region with key players. We need to get there in that type of high-level capacity."
"And I think it isn't happening at the moment, because the attention is elsewhere. It's Gaza. It's Libya. But, look, it's all tied together in Africa," Smith added. "The instability in countries in Africa, the lack of governance that's in the eastern Congo, leads to instability and leads to the type of problems that we're going to have to deal with. It's in our interest to get in there, broker a peace deal."
Congolese officials reportedly held talks Sunday in neighboring Uganda with representatives of M23, the rebel group leading the violent rebellion in eastern Congo. M23 rebels continue to hold the city of Goma and the nearby town of Sake captured in the last week, prompting fears of a return to war that has plagued the country in recent years.
Affleck praised the Congolese people for their "resilience" and added that U.S. foreign policy as a country, as he sees it, should represent our values.
"I mean, the amazing thing about the Congolese people is their degree of resilience and that they've been through this kind of stuff in the past. And so they're still dedicated and working hard, and we've seen our schools still open, hospitals, and so on," Affleck said. "I think our actions in foreign policy - and maybe I am naive - you know, represent our values and represent who we are. And if any American were to go to that country and stand and see what was happening there, they would insist that we do what we could."