The Liberals and Darfur
by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 21, 2006
Once again there is a clamor for the United States to intervene militarily abroad. The only difference is that this time the clamor comes not from neo-conservatives (or what Charles Krauthammer more accurately calls "democratic globalists"), but from liberals.
The cause now is stopping the ongoing genocide in the Darfur province of Sudan. Already an estimated 400,000 black Moslems have been murdered by militias comprised of nomadic Arab tribes called the Janjaweed, whose leader Musa Hilal, has declared it his goal to "change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes." What the Janjaweed lack in Nazi-like efficiency, they have more than made up for in savagery. Abuse of women as a form of subjugation and humiliation, hideous torture of victims and mutilation of their corpses are widespread and systematic.
Another two million African tribesmen are living in refugee camps solely dependent for their survival on international relief organizations. The centuries-old agricultural life of the African tribes has been destroyed.
Leading the charge for American military intervention is The New Republic. The May 15 issue of the magazine was almost entirely devoted to the subject.
Calls for reliance on any one of the alternatives to American troops – e.g., African Union or U.N. peacekeepers -- constitute excuses for doing nothing, according to The New Republic. As the lead editorial puts it, they are but "a sophisticated form of indecency—to care about a problem without caring for its solution."
The United Nations, for its part, explicitly cleared the Sudanese government of the charge of genocide, even though Khartoum unleashed the Janjaweed as an especially brutal version of counterinsurgency against two rebel groups in Darfur, and Janjaweed attacks on African villages are inevitably preceded by bombing of the Sudanese air force. U.N. peacekeepers, under the command of the redoubtable Kofi Annan, fled from Rwanda while Hutus murdered 800,000 Tutsis in the space of a few months in 1994, and they will prove little more useful in Darfur.
The existing African Union peacekeeping force has proven unable to stop the slaughter. The Western European countries have, at least, proven completely consistent: They are no more prepared to commit their troops to preventing genocide in Africa than they were to overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
While the United States has, as usual, committed more of its resources to humanitarian relief than any other nation, The New Republic is predictably critical of President Bush, whose strong words -- "not on my watch" -- have not been followed with commensurate deeds. One writer accused the President of channeling Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement.
WHAT LIBERAL CRITICS of American non-intervention in the genocide in Darfur must recognize is their own responsibility for a situation in which it is difficult for America to act. As The New Republic editorialist puts it, "All these proposals for ending the genocide in Darfur are really proposals to prevent the United States from ending it. It appears that there is something even more terrible than genocide in this very terrible world, and it is the further use of American military power abroad."
Where does the responsibility for the attitude rest? In large part, it rests with the remnants of what once went under the name of liberal internationalism, and which was the dominant foreign policy position of the Democratic Party prior to Vietnam. Today that liberal internationalism amounts to various means of tying down the American Gulliver by subjecting it to all manner of international treaties.
The same impulse to restrict American power lies behind the oft advanced claim that only military action that bears the imprimatur of the U.N. is legitimate, and that which does not bear the U.N. stamp of approval is by definition illegitimate. In that way China (which buys almost all of Sudan’s oil, incidentally) and Russia, not to mention France, are granted effective veto power over American action.
Underlying these attempts to chain the American beast is a view of American malevolence – America the international bully ever eager to throw its weight around; America intervening militarily in foreign countries to secure oil or to advance the interests of Haliburton. University of Michigan’s Juan Cole speaks for this view, when he writes, "There is not a country on earth that is not caught in the cross-hairs of the American cruise missile . . . ."
Such portrayals of American foreign policy under President George W. Bush have become commonplace since the onset of the Iraq War, and today they dominate discussion of the war within the Democratic Party. Three-term Senator Joseph Lieberman faces a strong primary challenge in Connecticut this year solely because his opposition to speedy withdrawal from Iraq has rendered him a pariah in the Democratic Party.
There has always been something more than a little batty about this portrayal of the Iraq War. Opponents of the war cite the number of those killed daily as proof of the immorality of the American intervention. Yet the humanitarian argument for the initial military intervention and for remaining today is far stronger than that for withdrawal. Those who counsel quick American withdrawal have failed to confront the fact that a precipitous American withdrawal would almost inevitably lead to a far greater bloodbath in Iraq than is taking place today.
Those detonating car bombs and killing dozens of their fellow Iraqis daily are not "insurgents" against America. Rather they are acting according to a clearly spelled out plan to foment civil war between Sunnis and Shiites in order to prevent Iraq from becoming a democracy. Popular insurgencies do not, as a rule, choose random killings of civilians as a tactic.
The liberal moralists are no more honest about the calculus in lives lost prior to the overthrow of Saddam than they are about the relative numbers of those who would be lost in the wake of an early American withdrawal. Saddam’s regime was one of terror, in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed and tortured. Those who could fled. And those who grew to adulthood under Saddam never knew what it was to share one’s innermost thoughts with another human being because of the omnipresent fear of government informers.
Those who have painted a false picture of America as using its military might to pursue only its own selfish interests – rather than as an instrument for spreading liberty around the world – must first revise that picture before they are in a position to call for American intervention in Darfur. It is simply incoherent to argue that American military power is benevolent when employed in purely humanitarian ventures, with no remote connection to national interests – e.g., Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti – but inherently suspect whenever vital national interests are involved.
As Lawrence Kaplan has acutely observed, "the most progressive forces calling for action in Darfur have become caught in a bind of their own devising": they want Darfur saved and they want American power curbed. They cannot have both.
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