WORLD MAY 15, 2006
Never again? What nonsense. Again and again is more like it. In Darfur, we are witnessing a genocide again, and again we are witnessing ourselves witnessing it and doing nothing to stop it. Even people who wish to know about the problem do not wish to know about the solution. They prefer the raising of consciousnesses to the raising of troops. Just as Rwanda made a bleak mockery of the lessons of Bosnia, Darfur is making a bleak mockery of the lessons of Rwanda. Some lessons, it seems, are gladly and regularly unlearned. Except, of course, by the perpetrators of this evil, who learn the only really enduring lessons about genocide in our time: that the Western response to it is late in coming, or is not coming at all.
Were the 1990s really that long ago? They are remembered now as the halcyon and money-happy interval between the war against Soviet totalitarianism and the war against Islamic totalitarianism, but the truth is that, even in the years immediately following the cold war, history never relented. The '90s were a decade of genocides—unimpeded (Rwanda) and partially impeded (Bosnia) and impeded (Kosovo). The relative success of those genocides was owed generally to the indifference of that chimera known as "the international community," but, more specifically, it was owed to the learning curve of an American president about the moral—and therefore the operational—difference between genocide and other foreign policy crises. The difference is simple. In the response to most foreign policy crises, the use of military force is properly viewed as a last resort. In the response to genocide, the use of military force is properly viewed as a first resort.
The notion of force as a first resort defies the foundations of diplomacy and also of common sense: A willingness to use hard power abroad must not become a willingness to use it wildly. But if you are not willing to use force against genocide immediately, then you do not understand what genocide is. Genocide is not a crisis that escalates into evil. It is evil from its inception. It may change in degree if it is allowed to proceed, but it does not change in kind. It begins with the worst. Nor is its gravity to be measured quantitatively: The intention to destroy an entire group is present in the destruction of even a small number of people from that group. It makes no sense, therefore, to speak of ending genocide later. If you end it later, you will not have ended it. If Hitler had been stopped after the murder of three million Jews, would he be said to have failed? Four hundred thousand Darfuris have already been murdered by the Janjaweed, the Arab Einsatzgruppen. If we were to prevent the murder of the 400,001st, will we be said to have succeeded?
This elementary characteristic of genocide—the requirement that the only acceptable response is an immediate and uncompromising response or else we, too, will be complicit in the crime—should have been obvious after the inhumane ditherings, the wrenchingly slow awakenings to conscience, of the '90s; but the discussion of the Darfur genocide in recent years shows that this is not at all obvious. To be sure, there is no silence about Darfur. Quite the contrary. The lamentations about Darfur are everywhere now. There is eloquence, there is protest. Unlikely coalitions are being formed. Movie stars are refusing to be muzzled, and they are standing up and being counted. Even officials and politicians feel that they must have something pained and wrathful to say. These latecomers include the president of the United States.
All of this is to the good, of course. In a democratic and media-maddened society, this right-thinking din is one of the conditions of political action, as domestic pressures are increasingly significant factors in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. But it makes no sense—and, in this instance, it is a sophisticated form of indecency—to care about a problem without caring about its solution. During the Bosnia crisis, there were many people who cared about the ethnic cleansing and systematic rape of the Bosnian Muslims, but they insisted that it was a European problem with a European solution. They were half right: It was indeed a European problem, classically so. But it was perfectly plain to every honest observer of the genocide that there would be no European solution, and that the insistence upon such a solution amounted to a tender indifference to the problem.
The Darfur variety of the Bosnia hypocrisy is now upon us. We are told that this genocide must be stopped, now, now, never again, all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, not on our watch, fight the power, we shall overcome—but stopped by us? Of course not. This is an African problem with an African solution. The African solution comes in two versions. There is the view that Darfur will be rescued from the genocide by the successful resolution of the negotiations taking place in Abuja—or, more precisely, that the people who are perpetrating the evil are the ones to whom we must look for the end of its perpetration. (At the rally on the Mall in Washington last week, Russell Simmons jammed excitedly that the Khartoum government had just accepted a draft of a peace accord. Def, indeed.) This version of the African solution does not even acknowledge the requirement of military force to halt the evil. And there is the version of the African solution that looks to the troops of the African Union to do the job. Nancy Pelosi is especially enamored of this remedy. She has boldly proclaimed that AU troops must be "given more mobility" and "freed from the restriction that limits their effectiveness," all in the name of stopping the genocide. It would be nice, wouldn't it? But, so far, the forces of the African Union have had no significant impact on the emergency. To ask them to do the job is to admit that you do not really need the job done.
Then there is the other alibi for Western inaction, the distinguished one: the belief that salvation will come from blue helmets. After the slaughters of the '90s, all of which numbered the fecklessness—and even the cynicism—of the United Nations among their causes, it defies belief that people of goodwill would turn to the United Nations for effective action. The United Nations is not even prepared to call the atrocities in Darfur a genocide. Kofi Annan says all sorts of lofty things, but everybody knows that he is only the humble servant of a notoriously recalcitrant body. Meanwhile the Sudanese regime maneuvers skillfully—what is the Chinese word for oil?—to prevent reprisals of any kind from the Security Council. And even if the United Nations were somehow to recover its ethics and its efficacy, it would take many months—in some estimates, most of a year—before a U.N. force could be deployed. No, they are not losing any sleep in Khartoum over the U.N. option.
There is also the view that this is an African problem with a European solution—but let us come to the heart of the matter. 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. And in a Muslim country! Why, it would make us more unpopular. Remember that in the post-September 11, post-Operation Iraqi Freedom environment, the sensitivities of Muslims—insofar as they can be clearly known and accurately predicted—must not be further offended. Never mind that they themselves give gross offense: This is a genocide committed by Muslims against Muslims that no Muslims are racing to stop. The poor Darfuris: Their plight interferes with the anti-imperialist integrity of liberals in the only country in the world with the power and the authority (yes, still) to help them. The Democrats in Washington are now clamoring for the appointment of a special envoy to Sudan. (No mention so far of Brent Scowcroft.) That is to say, they are searching for reasons to deflect the responsibility of refusing to let crimes against humanity stand. In the matter of genocide, the party of Clinton is still the party of Clinton.
But it is not only, or mainly, the Democrats who impede a U.S.—or a U.S.-led, or a U.S.-NATO—campaign against the killers. This is a Republican era, after all. And the record of the Bush administration on Darfur has been disgraceful (see Marisa Katz, "A Very Long Engagement," page 20). The president has his own uses for all the alibis. He is not inclined to order one more American soldier into action. (But would the camels of the Janjaweed pose a tactical challenge to us? Surely all that is required is a little shock and no awe at all.) And there are other disturbing reasons for Bush's tepidity about Darfur. One of them, again, is Sudan's oil, which suddenly confers upon this repulsive state a certain strategic prestige. And there is also the haunting memory of Sudan's previous hospitality to anti-American jihadist terrorism. In the view of the White House, then, an intervention in Darfur may be counter to American interests. So, in this crisis, too, the streets of Washington now run with realism.
All this is grotesque. Sure, interventions are always more complicated than planned (though they are rarely as poorly planned as Iraq, which must not serve as the only model); but not all interventions are quagmires waiting to happen. And the risks to American values if we fail to act against genocide are far greater than the risks to American interests if we act against it. Is Iraq now all that the United States needs to know? Will we allow Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay to disqualify us from our moral and historical role in the world? Is idealism in U.S. foreign policy only for fair weather? What is so unconscionable about nation-building anyway? Why will we never get the question of genocide right, when, in some ways, it is the easiest question of all? The discussion of Darfur, even by many people whose outrage is sincere, has become a festival of bad faith. Everybody wants to do everything but what must be done. It is the season of heartless bleeding hearts.