Genocide and Conscience

The MSM has conscientiously continued its advocacy on behalf of the victims of the crisis in Darfur; today’s editorial in the Post is the latest piece calling for serious government action. It shrinks not from using the word “genocide” to describe the crisis, a word first officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. Is that an accurate description? And how exactly should the U.S. involve itself?

A few weeks ago, actor Don Cheadle and analyst John Prendergast wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "We need to make it a little warmer, a little more uncomfortable for those politicians who would look away. Just a few more degrees. Just a few more thousand letters. It is, frankly, that simple." In InstantReplay's post highlighting their article, I provided links for readers to contact their legislators. Normally, that would mean I myself had contacted them; in this case, I could not quite bring myself to. Why?

I have strong "anti-genocide credentials". I am a third-generation Holocaust survivor and I spent a month in Rwanda getting to know a few of the broken hearts left behind from their genocide. I absolutely believe that genocide is a worthy and worthwhile reason to go to war, if doing so has a reasonable chance of ending the genocide.

So why do I hesitate to pull out the stops on Darfur?

First, it is more complex than it sounds. The conflict was begun by rebels from Darfur called the Sudan Liberation Movement (or Army)*, which attacked government installations in Darfur in 2003. Sudan experts generally consider that the Khartoum government's influence is absolute only in the capital city, and tails off sharply beyond 100 to 200 miles thence. Darfur is a good 400 miles from Khartoum. A Darfur rebellion, therefore, has a legitimate chance of success. In response to the attacks, the Sudanese government armed and encouraged the "more Arab" nomads against their traditional enemies, the "less Arab" sedentary farmers. These irregulars (the "Janjaweed") have behaved like raiders from any time or place, visiting pillage, plunder and rapine upon the farmers.

Clearly, violence and injustice is taking place in an organized and inexcusable way. But is it genocide? I have seen no reports of racist or otherwise dehumanizing rhetoric, nor have I seen reports of mass murder techniques, such as chemical weapons, long firing squads, death marches, etc. The high death toll is not primarily from violent killings, it seems, but from starvation and disease among refugees. Meanwhile, the rebels continue to fight back against the Janjaweed, in a battle where there are plenty of "bad guys" but no clear-cut "good guys".

So what should the West do? Providing food and shelter for refugees is an easy call, and we have done well in doing so. Getting buy-in from Sudan's neighbors is also critical, and that has also been done. The troops on the ground are 2,000 African Union peacekeepers, and though this force is clearly too small in size, its makeup seems to be pleasingly uncontroversial.

In my mind, the United States and United Kingdom (which will no doubt act in tandem if at all) have two options. The first is to pursue the current course of multilateral relief and pressure. For instance, the U.S. recently agreed to allow a Security Council resolution referring 51 potential war criminals to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution, despite the Bush administration's opposition to the Court's existence. By compromising in this way, the U.S. can keep the whole world engaged at a low but steady level, and seek to contain the conflict until it burns itself out.

The second option is to break sharply with international feeling and act unilaterally to solve the conflict. This would mean putting American and British Commonwealth troops on the ground. It would be an easy campaign, no doubt, because the Janjaweed would melt back into their tribes as soon as they saw a U.S. helicopter. We could not destroy the Janjaweed without treating their home villages the same way they have treated the farmers'. Since we are unwilling to slaughter entire tribes, this war would have no stopping point short of overthrowing the Khartoum government and taking on a nation-building project similar to what we are doing in Afghanistan. This would alienate our Arab allies (Egypt especially) and whip Islamists, who have long been predicting that America wants to take their region over and make them all Christians, into a frenzy. It would stop the killing and starvation in Darfur, but would destablize all of Sudan, and would widen and deepen the perceived conflict between America and the Arab People, in their eyes.

This second option may become necessary. The Sudanese regime is certainly no friend of the world nor of its populace, and the Janjaweed deserve to be punished. If and when we see that they are truly embarked on a campaign of extermination, we must step in. But until that is determined, I cannot justify telling the most powerful military the world has ever known to take sides in a tribal turf war in the Sahel.

If you disagree with me, please contact your representative and senators. Just as before, I cannot bring myself to advocate U.S. military involvement in Darfur, but I want to encourage those who believe it is necessary to themselves act on that belief. If your conscience disagrees with mine, obey yours - and tell those who represent you.

* The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, formerly the Darfur Liberation Front, is not to be confused with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, which recently signed a five-year truce with the government, ending fighting in southern Sudan.

Posted by Chops at April 11, 2005 11:47 AM