Saturday, September 11, 2004

re: "A Darfur Thought" by Matt Yglesias

Matthew Yglesias asks:

Would not a western military intervention against a Sunni Arab Islamist regime aimed at imposing a de facto partition on the country have some serious implications for the war on terrorism?

Yes. That's one reason why it would probably be best (or least worst) to send in military forces primarily from African Union countries, particularly Nigeria. They would require funding and logistical support from the US & European countries, as well as political & diplomatic pressure from those countries to get the Khartoum government to agree to their deployment. Also, I'm afraid, the experience of Liberia and Sierra Leone suggests that they will need to be stiffened by at least a few troops from western countries. (I have read several reports of Darfur refugees saying that they won't feel safe to go home until they see "white faces," since they regard African troops as too easy to bribe and a bit dangerous themselves.)

All these steps certainly carry with them strong possibilities for unpleasant side-effects. (Greeks, for example, still haven't forgiven the US for helping to stop mass murder, mass rape, & ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.) Even if most of the troops are Africans (even, say, Muslims from Nigeria), jihadists can still blame the whole thing on Jews & Crusaders. And, unfortunately, I don't see any satisfactory "solution" to the underlying political crises of Sudan in the foreseeable future, so any intervention is likely to be messy and long-term.

On the other hand, the alternative is to do nothing serious about this massive atrocity--which I would not call "genocide" now, but which could well turn into genocide if most of the refugees die of hunger, disease, and violence over the next few months. Despite all the risks (and almost certain downsides) outlined above, I see this option as unacceptable.

At this point, whether or not any serious attempt is made to stop this atrocity depends primarily on what the European governments do--which in turn will depend crucially on whether or not there is a mobilization of western public opinion against the Darfur atrociity that is strong enough to put pressure on European governments to do something, and to overcome their understandable inclination to play it safe. My guess, right now, is that nothing effective will get done, and a decade from now this whole catastrophe will be remembered as a second Rwanda. Let's hope not, however.

Jeff Weintraub

P.S. I'm not at all sure it's right to suggest that an intervention to stop the genocide would be likely to lead to a partition (or even de-facto partition) of Sudan. Even the rebel groups don't aim for that, as far as I can tell, which makes this situation quite different from (say) Kosovo.