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July 20, 2004

While We Sit on the Sidelines...

Mark Steyn on why the West has so far failed the civilians being slaughtered in Sudan.

The Americans could probably make a difference in Sudan, too. The USAF could target and bomb the Janjaweed as effectively as they did the Taliban. But then John Mann and Harold Pinter and Rupert Everett would get their knickers in a twist, and everyone from John Kerry to Polly Toynbee would complain that it's "illegitimate" unless it's authorised by the UN. The problem is, by the time you've gone through the UN, everyone's dead.

The UN system is broken beyond repair. In May, even as its proxies were getting stuck into their ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan was elected to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Commission. This isn't an aberration: Zimbabwe is also a member. The very structure of the organisation, under which countries vote in regional blocs, encourages such affronts to decency.

And that's the cold truth. The far left of the world would rather that the nations who could make a difference don't. Because there is never a justification for killing. Because there is never a justification for war. Because, as long as we keep ourselves out of it, the only blood spilled is the blood of the innocent at the hands of the tyrants. Because give peace a chance, man.

I'm sorry, but that's a pretty high cost for a supposedly clean conscience.

The tough part, being an American, and being pro-intervention is that as powerful as the US is, both militarily and politically, even we don't have the power to right all of the world's wrongs.

My favorite book of all time is Catcher in the Rye. One of the things that I liked about it was the idea of the catcher--that is, the person running through the rye, at the edge of the cliff, doing his damnedest to keep children from falling over the edge. As you grow up, you realize that there is only so much you can do to help keep the world safe from danger--and that "so much" is really "so little." Like Holden, we all realize that we have to grow out of our Superman fantasies.

The UN is different. As a theoretical league of nations, it does have the power to make a great difference in the world. If the UN were an organization dedicated to its charter--the prevention of genocide, for instance--it would be an organization dedicated to actually acting in the interest of the Sudanese people, and the millions that live in places like Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, the UN is devoted to its clean conscience. A devotion that comes at the cost of thousands upon thousands of lives throughout the world, year after year, while we all sit on the sidelines and watch. Sooner or later, the US or the UN will probably send troops in, but the blood will have been shed, the women brutally murdered and raped, and the lives left to be saved will be few.

Again, that seems like an awfully high price for the innocent to pay.

I call bullshit. Our conscience isn't clean when we sit back and watch the innocent die while our politicians either ignore the situation or debate it until the mass graves are filling up again.

Read the story.

Update: For an opposing (or, more accurately, a different) view on this subject, check out this post. While I disagree with the writer, Michael (and do think that bombing and strategic intervention can be effective as part of a larger effort for creating changes--that is, bombing by itself isn't enough, but can be part of a larger effort of regional change) it's well worth reading. Notably, I don't disagree with the idea of using economic pressure to force change, either--but that by itself is rarely enough.

Saddam Hussein, theoretically, faced draconian economic measures designed to force him to comply with UN mandates and to bring about political changes. These measures simply didn't work--and, in dealing with oil, there is always a potential buyer willing to funnel oil into the world market where there is no differentiation between one nation's oil and another.

Whereas Michael doesn't seem to like the idea of military intervention, I propose that, while military intervention isn't always the answer, there are times when it needs to be one of many approaches used in forcing changes in the worst possible situations. A few weeks ago, I wrote Confessions of a Bleeding Heart Warmonger on my other site, and I think it outlines, to some extent, how I feel about war in general and Iraq in specific.

In the Sudan, I happen to think that an invasion of the type seen in Iraq isn't even remotely necessary. I do believe, though, that an escalating, aggressive response that starts with economic inducements and scales to military intervention over a very short period of time is in order.

Thanks to Michael for taking the time to respond and for pointing to his own article on the subject.

Posted by zombyboy at July 20, 2004 01:36 PM

I respectfully disagree. Bombing is a very short term solution and its effect on behavior in such situations is also short term, or worse, as we saw in Bosnia, perverse: it could encourage Janjaweed forces to accellerate their attacks.

A structural pressure on, or control of, the government's income stream is a better means of policy modification. I wrote an article about the genocide and impact of the gutting of the Sudan Peace Act by the Bush Administration in 2002. No one seems to talk about putting pressure on Sudan's infant oil industry, where it will hurt them most, since Bush killed very a effective method of embargo in that bill. It seems that the oil companies involved in development and exploration in Sudan have effectively buried the strongest tool we have to stop the killing.

Posted by: Michael at July 20, 2004 02:36 PM

Thanks for such a good discussion! I think our best bet now is an African Union military protective force, backed by US and UK and French military and logistics support--and coordinated closely with the humanitarian agencies, especially the UN food program.

Longer term I don't know what happens. Like Rwanda, the society will have to be reconciled and rebuilt. That will be very difficult if the current government stays in power, because it is genocidal and ruthless, and it has for two decades seen famine and rape and epidemic disease as acceptable tools of counter-insurgency. This does not bode well for the future restoration of people to their land, homes, and lives--at least not without outside help--including the force to back up agreements.

I volunteer my time writing on
feel free to check it out--it is a non-partisan, all volunteer daily newsblog of events related to the genocide in Sudan.

Posted by: Jim Moore at July 31, 2004 07:51 PM
visit it

Posted by: Swarthmore Sudan at January 29, 2005 12:53 PM
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