A Doctrine for Darfur

Much of my early intellectual formation took place in a world characterized by genocide. I watched the Bosnian genocide unfold while the world stood by, a conflict brought home by the fact I went to high school and college with two Bosnian girls. At the same time, I remember seeing CNN's reports from Rwanda, another preventable tragedy in which nothing happened. We now know just how staggering the death toll there was, and the world entered into a new round of "never again."

The main impact these events had on me was an awareness of how ignorance kills, and on a massive scale. By this I mean in part the ignorance of those who perpetrate genocide about those whom they destroy. I also mean, in ways that strike closest to home professionally, the ignorance of those who can do something about the world's conflicts, which the media too often reduces to inscrutable timeless enmities, as if the fact Serb nationalist leaders evoke the Field of Blackbirds means that the Balkans has, in fact, been an ongoing bloodbath since 1389.

The third type of dangerous ignorance is the simple ignorance of crucial events taking place in the world, events which were they to become known could give rise to calls for action among inert leaders. And for that reason, I was glad to see Nicholas Kristof over the weekend again calling attention to Darfur.

The Weekly Standard has also flogged this issue:
"Yet, as all this is revealed "before our eyes," the U.N. Security Council has proven institutionally incapable of acting in any meaningful way to stop Khartoum's brutal campaign in Darfur. As was the case with Rwanda, a modest force on the ground in Darfur could have saved many thousands of lives by now and still could save many lives in the weeks ahead. But while the United States has been pushing for just such a force--in addition to sanctions against Khartoum--Russia and China remain opposed because both governments do not want to jeopardize their commercial relations with the Sudanese government. Thus, we're left with toothless Security Council resolutions and vows of tribunals for those committing war crimes, but nothing to stop the crimes in progress."

The United States is a nation of people whose roots lie all over the world. Our history is littered with conflict and prejudice, including the stains of slavery and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. However, at every turn we have found ways to live together, building communities to reflect our values of freedom and human dignity. These common values are supported across the political spectrum by people from all backgrounds and walks of life. They are the core of the American identity, and when we project our power abroad, the move must be defended in terms of those values or face popular rejection.

Since this nation was founded, the world has become increasingly interdependent, and at least since Woodrow Wilson worked passionately for the League of Nations, Americans have been at the forefront of efforts to build an international community based off the interests of all rather than narrow alliances for the interests of the participants. And the international community has declared that there is no greater atrocity than the extermination of those whose only crime is to be both different and inconvenient. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are not mere instances of local conflict, but threats to the very foundation of an international order based on the interactions between peoples.

The time has come to enforce these principles, not merely with the words of diplomats and campaigns of activists, but, when necessary and practical, with strength. This is not just a humanitarian principle. There are today weapons which could render this world uninhabitable. Weapons spread when people and nations lack confidence in the institutions which exist for their defense, and because weapons, whether conventional, chemical or even nuclear can fall easily onto the black market where some are willing to buy, in an age of asymmetrical warfare, any conflict anywhere threatens all people everywhere. The only true long-term security comes not from hegemony which others will always seek to resist, but from enshrining a system of international norms with swift and certain justice meted out to those who violate them.

As wonderful as it would be, we cannot end all war. We can, however, draw a line in the sand at indiscriminate slaughter aimed at the elimination of whole populations. And right now in Darfur, we have the chance to act. The international community must enact and enforce a no-fly zone over the region to prevent the Khartoum regime from using its helicopter gunships. We must slap an arms embargo on the Sudan, and a deployed peacekeeping force must have the strength and authority to disarm combatants within the region. Finally, we must crack down on those responsible through referrals to the International Criminal Court. I am not interested in discussing the merits of this court; this is a debate which the United States must postpone due to the clear and present danger to innocent life. The world's most powerful nation must not cower at the expense children who face unspeakable brutalization.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that, "If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace." Sudan is a truly purple issue, which has been an important foreign policy cause of both the religious right and the Congressional Black Caucus and appears regularly on both Daily Kos and Red State. I commend the Bush administration for taking the lead on it internationally; now we must take the steps necessary to seal the deal and turn our oft-repeated "never again" into "not this time."

UPDATE: I've gone into just a bit more on my blog.


Aziz P. said…
completely agreed. Darfur is a black and white case for action. However, what action? What are we capable of doing in Darfur? I am not saying it is hopeless, but genuinely at a loss for what we can do - given that our manpower is thin and our allies hardly tripping over themselves to follow our example.
Aziz P. said…
ahh, there was a pragmatic suggestion of a plan of action by Tacitus last summer (depressing to think how long Darfgur has been an issue without resolution, eh?)

The solution to this genocide is pathetically easy. It is a solution tried before, and it is a solution whose elements are already in-place. Moreover, it is a solution that the United States and Chad can execute alone, if need be. There is a tendency, particularly within the humanitarian and self-styled "international" communities, to look at genocide as a sort of natural disaster: causeless and unstoppable, a thing to be alleviated rather than thwarted. The ludicrous extreme expression of this came to fruition in Rwanda, where the United Nations and relief agencies from around the world chose to expend massively more effort assuaging the plight of fleeing Hutu Power genocidaires than that of the scarred survivors of murder, rape, and devastation in Rwanda itself. It is as if the Red Cross set up safe zones for unrepentant Germans in 1945. True justice, and true reconciliation, would of course have come with a ruthless uprooting of those responsible, and a deliverance to judgment of the peoples culpable. Instead, we see that the problem was merely prolonged, rather than resolved -- the Hutu Power mini-state in northeastern Congo still threatens as a cause of war and rebellion. This is the future being slowly charted for Darfur: no return of refugees, no justice for the victims, no punishment for the killers, and no consequence for their leaders. A festering grievance develops, a product of foolish reliance on process and diplomacy (with genocidists, whom one would think would be ipso facto outside the bounds of human discourse), and, yes, cowardice on the part of those who could act but do not.

But as I said, the solution is pathetically simple: the United States and Chad can and should facilitate an invasion of Darfur. Is this madness in the face of ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Hardly. The test cases -- the Afghan campaign of fall 2001, and countless French interventions in the region over the past half-century -- have already been fought and won. This is an altogether simpler case: while the geographic area is truly huge, the terrain is easier, and the determination of combatants -- black Africans versus Arabs -- is as clear-cut as could be. The manpower -- legions of angry, organized, determined Fur -- is present. The infrastructure, in the form of US-Chadian military cooperation, is in place. (As an unrelated aside, the reactions to that cooperation here are instructive.) The allies -- every state, group, and militia ever brutalized or alienated by Khartoum (among whom we can count not just Chad, but Ethiopia, Uganda, Eritrea, and of course the SPLA) -- only lack a unifying force. What remains is, on our part, a comparatively light burden of commitment: supplies and the airlift to get them there; tactical air power we can easily spare; Special Forces teams for communications and coordination; and forcible rhetoric from Washington, DC. It would truly be a war in the service of humanity: politically, just what is needed to demonstrate core American ideals, and a stark differentiation between our willingness to venture abroad in the service of freedom, and the desire of the wider world to ignore the most egregious of horrors. Pragmatically, it is an engagement we could afford and win (especially against the medieval janjaweed throwbacks) in comparatively short order. No need for an occupation of Khartoum, nor even an aggressive push for regime change there: it would be enough to secure the de facto independence of Darfur, and its establishment as a sort of Sahelian Kurdistan.

This is not, assuredly, what will be done. But it is what can be done, and it is what's right.
Thoughts, critiques? see the original for some contextual links which did not survive the copy and paste.

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