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Choosing your fights carefully

Over at another blog, there's yet another call for "action" to stop the genocide in Darfur. I looked at that over a year ago, and came to the reluctant conclusion that there really wasn't anything that the US could do. But this blogger tied it in to the Bush Administration's recent leaning on the UN to take some sort of action regarding Syria's assassination of a political opponent.

Now, it's been over a year, and I've thought about my piece on Darfur several times, and I just don't see where I might have been wrong, or how things might have changed since then.

But what about Syria? Since we can't/won't do anything about Darfur, should we simply let slide events in Syria?

I think not.

The differences between the situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan and what's going on in and around Syria are significant.

1) The genocide in Darfur is strictly occurring within one nation's borders, while Syria is meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel.

2) The United States currently has a very large military presence right next door to Syria.

3) Syria has been caught red-handed (literally) in the Hariri assassination in Lebanon.

4) Their decades-old occupation of Lebanon is crumbling.

5) Hafez Assad, the strongman who ran Syria with an iron fist died in 2000, and his son Bashar (whom Meryl Yourish calls "The Dorktator" ) is a very weak figure. There are speculations that he really doesn't control much of Syria's military, and they tend to just ignore and humor him while they do what they like.

6) The long-term goal of the Bush Administration's Middle East Policy seems to be, to my eyes, aimed at breaking the old model of "stability" and actively destabilize a lot of regimes that could use some shaking up, and rebuilding them in a more democratic form. Further, it seems to be "use the tool that best works." In Iraq, to destabilize Saddam, the Bush administration figured the best solution would be force. In Libya, quiet threats and making examples of other nations persuaded Qaddafi to give up his WMD programs. Now, in Syria, it appears that diplomatic force (through the UN) is going to be tried.

For decades, the key word, the touchstone, of Middle East politics was "stability." NOTHING could be allowed to disrupt the status quo. But after 9/11, the Bush administration took a hard look at the Middle East and realized that the "stability" was every bit as much a quagmire as Viet Nam was, where no one dared push things too far in either direction. (And every bit NOT a quagmire as Iraq is proving, where it looks more and more like the Constitution passed -- with the support of all the major political/social/racial/religous factions). In Viet Nam, there was a tremendous fear of "going too far," of "pushing too hard," of provoking China or the Soviet Union to get more involved -- and that half-assed approach to fighting a war cost us dearly, in ways we're still paying.

But the "status quo" in the Middle East was, and is, unsustainable. All it guaranteed was a minimal level of violence -- a range where the deaths and destruction and carnage and brutal repression was acceptable. Yes, it almost never went too high, but it also never went too low. It was a sick, twisted, completely artificial structure, and unsustainable, and desperately needed to be shattered.

Tragically, none of these factors play out in Darfur. And so, with the United States simply being unable to act unilaterally in any substantial way there, and the Sudan's neighbors uninterested in stopping it, and the Muslim bloc of the UN blocking any meaningful action, it's likely to continue.

Yeah, it sucks. It sucks hugely. But I just don't see any other solutions.

Comments (16)

Syria may be the greater re... (Below threshold)

Syria may be the greater regional threat, but it's in Sudan that there's ongoing genocide. I guess it depends on which evil is deemed more important to fight in the geopolitical triage.

I don't think it would be too hard to stop what's happening in Sudan, despite the reluctance of its neighbors to intervene. It wouldn't take sacking the government or occupying the country. A few thousand infantrymen could be dropped in with but two goals: protest the innocent people and shoot the bad guys (and it's not nearly as hard to differentiate between them as it is to in Iraq right now, either).

Bob, great idea. But where ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Bob, great idea. But where will those infantry come from? How will they arrive? Over whose airspace will they fly? How will they be supported and resupplied? How long will it take before the horribly imbalanced body count (several dozen of "them" to one of us, at least) starts getting called "genocide" on our hands?

Go and read my earlier piece that I linked to, Bob. It shows just how impossible your solution is.


Remember, Bob, it's Arabs d... (Below threshold)

Remember, Bob, it's Arabs doing the killing. There's a news blackout on Darfur on Arab stations. The moment some foreigners drop in and shoot one Arab, Al-Jazeera will be all over it faster than you can say "jihad." And the Europeans will agree with them because they're afraid of their domestic Arabs.

There are good insights her... (Below threshold)

There are good insights here as always (well -- I only check in periodically but I've always found good stuff). I don't think I have time to get into this can of worms right this second, but let me bottom line it:

"The long-term goal of the Bush Administration's Middle East Policy seems to be, to my eyes, aimed at breaking the old model of 'stability' and actively destabilize a lot of regimes that could use some shaking up, and rebuilding them in a more democratic form. Further, it seems to be 'use the tool that best works.' In Iraq, to destabilize Saddam, the Bush administration figured the best solution would be force. In Libya, quiet threats and making examples of other nations persuaded Qaddafi to give up his WMD programs. Now, in Syria, it appears that diplomatic force (through the UN) is going to be tried."

I'm not a Democrat nor a Republican, but I'm often amused at just how big a benefit of the doubt many conservatives give this administration. As I see it, this administration has demonstrated obtuse policymaking over and over, touting its so-called "vision" yet consistently using crude, simplistic, counterproductive knee-jerk policymaking. The administration went into Iraq at a bad time, using a bad method; and its hand has been forced in other areas due to its ineptitude in Iraq. True, the administration has vague, often laughably oversimplified ideas (filled with useless platitudes and hyperbole) about remaking the Middle East, but I see some supporters giving it far too much credit for grand schemes. (Anyway -- who hasn't talked about improving the situation in the Middle East? This is nothing new.) The Libya negotiations were started by the Clinton administration and reluctantly adopted by the Bush administration -- the much-maligned Colin Powell State Department no less (John Bolton, more of an inner-circle Bush guy than Powell, said Libya should be in a second axis of evil). Now we see the Bush administration conveniently quoting the UN in this new saga with Syria. Richard Perle, the behind-the-scenes powerbroker who helped make the Iraq war happen, said after the war began that "international law...would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone." And the Bush administration clearly agreed, based on its tack in pursuing the war ludicrously aggressively despite Saddam's relative impotence. Now the Bush administration is quoting the UN and pleading for some sort of international justice; give me a break. There is certainly a grand scheme here, but it's one designed by Perle's neoconservatives, many of whom are now lashing out against an administration they believe has botched their big dreams with its bungling and rigid clumsiness. Anyone who's trying to tie everything that's happened in the last few years into some well-designed method is truly stretching it.

And there's a lot more to be said on Syria specifically, etc. but I'll have to leave it at this.

Also, one total non sequitur. Can anyone provide any more info about this thing I saw recently that "a U.S. Department of Veterans study of 251 Gulf War] veteran's families found that 67% had children with severe illnesses or birth defects." This was apparently a study of families in Mississippi. I've looked into Gulf War Syndrome a little and this data doesn't jibe with my other impressions of it. (Yes, it seems to exist in some form or another, but some of it may be stress, etc. and nothing equivalent to camping out for a month outside Chernobyl, as this study would seem to imply.) Just curious. (I saw it here -- http://www.boycottusa.org/usa_crimes_iraq.htm -- and doubted it was real but Googled it and came up with other results, like this one -- http://www.wise-uranium.org/dgvd.html . For the record, no, I don't normally hang out at boycottusa.org. I found it via a convoluted link-clicking odyssey. And feel free to visit them and ridicule them if you like.)

p.s. William Kristol (the neocon) and his Weekly Standard waited until McCain dropped out of the race in 2000 to finally support Bush. Now the marriage and honeymoon is over, and he's back to square one -- is this incompetent Texan really the guy for the job? In 1999, the American Spectator observed that "platitudes, larded with undefined terms and vague concepts" were a "hallmark of the Bush style." Far more so than these intelligent grand visions of the future I keep hearing about from his supporters, it still is.

p.p.s. I like this blog because it's insightful. There are a few insightful blogs on both sides of the aisle. I try to avoid the orgy of inside-joke-telling (and outsider-crucifying) mindless conformity at blogs like LGF -- which gives me a massive migraine.

You know, I wouldn't be sur... (Below threshold)

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if other countries try to criticize the US for not going into Sudan to stop the genocide. My reply is, "Why don't you?" That tends to shut people up.

Really, why does the US have to do everything? Can't somebody else step up to the plate and help? France? Germany? Italy? Spain? No takers? Figures.

I agree with you Silverbubb... (Below threshold)

I agree with you Silverbubble. If other countries are so damned concerned, lets seem them put up or shut up.

I am so damned tired of the EU, UN and other countries criticizing the US. If they are so damned concerned about genocide going on throughout the world send your own troops, or better yet, the UN troops if you can get them to stop raping those people who they are supposed to be protecting!

That brings up another matter, I am so damned tired of the MSM criticizing our own troops and not one word is mentioned about those guys in the blue helmets raping defenceless people. This is certainly a good reason to have an armed society!!!

The Bush Middle East policy... (Below threshold)

The Bush Middle East policy is v clear to us in the UK; it's to do with securing oil supplies for the US, nothing more. That's why the US invaded Iraq, and has a string of military bases throughout the region. It has absolutely nothing to do with promoting democracy, or getting rid of evil in the world. And because Sudan has nothing that is of economic or strategic interest to the US, it will do nothing there.

"Yeah, it sucks. It sucks h... (Below threshold)

"Yeah, it sucks. It sucks hugely. But I just don't see any other solutions."

Wow. Man what an ego... Just because you don't see how it can be done, it isn't possible? I am sorry, what are your credentials? How can you dismiss any posibility of the US stopping this genocide?

radjel wrote: " And because... (Below threshold)

radjel wrote: " And because Sudan has nothing that is of economic or strategic interest to the US, it will do nothing there."

Ya man! Just like Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Grenada...

Oh, wait, we went into those places.

Mark, I've been trying to p... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Mark, I've been trying to prove myself wrong for over a year. If you can, you'll have my gratitude. But if all you have is cheap shots and the like, feel free to shut the hell up and go elsewhere.


Cheap shots? Correct me if... (Below threshold)

Cheap shots? Correct me if I am wrong, but all I pointed out is that your point of "nothing can be done" isn't the end of the debate. Just because you don't see how it can be done, I am sure if the full resources of our great country were put to use to fine the way, that we could find a way. Or do I have more faith in our government than you?

A for style, Mark, F for su... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

A for style, Mark, F for substance. I'm still waiting for you to find a flaw in my reasoning in that earlier piece. Simply stamping your feet and shouting that "there's gotta be SOMETHING" might make you feel good, but it doesn't change a damned thing.


Well, I guess it would take... (Below threshold)

Well, I guess it would take some effort from us...

To get more peacekeepers into Darfur, the African Union would have to negotiate the details with Sudan's government; it would require diplomatic and technical support from the United Nations, more troop contributions from African countries, and more money and logistical backup from the United States and its allies. But recent experience shows that the United States is unwilling to invest the effort to make these disparate actors work together; only two-thirds of the currently mandated African Union deployment is on the ground.

So long as Sudan shut the world out as it killed Darfur's civilians, it was the primary culprit for atrocities that amount to genocide. But if Sudan's government is inviting the world into Darfur, the moral burden shifts a bit. The United States and its allies are being challenged to show that they care about genocide enough to shake off their passivity and organize a peacekeeping force. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her new team at the State Department must rise to this challenge, so that stories like the saving of Muhajeryia are no longer the exceptions.

Or maybe we could fulfill this letter but that is just a suggestion. Or just helping the African Union with troop levels. But this is all just a QUICK google search, if I wanted to actually do research I am sure I could find better examples.

Hey Mark, there used to be ... (Below threshold)

Hey Mark, there used to be a great tradition in the U.S. of volunteerism when our government couldn't or wouldn't (or didn't have the resources needed to) get involved. This volunteerism was what created the legend of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, who were volunteers and not regular army in the Spanish-American war. It was something that Hemingway reported upon, though in a fictional manner, in his books A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

So, if you are so sure that something must be done, then by all means, organize an international brigade or join in the battle in some way. I'm sure your volunteer efforts will be well appreciated by the residents of Darfur.

n an incredibly well writte... (Below threshold)

n an incredibly well written Op-Ed piece, U.S. Congressman George Miller, Chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, has put together a plan for Iraq. Miller is the first Democrat to articulate a detailed strategy. Here's an excerpt:

"LAST WEEK'S vote on the Iraqi constitution was important, but it should not distract Americans from the real problems we face there.

Not only is the new constitution a divisive document that leaves most key political issues unsettled, but its approval will not slow the growth or influence of the deadly insurgency. It remains that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is not working now and it will not ever work. We must change course, and there is a way to do that. "

Read more atSector 7G.

As usual this site can be r... (Below threshold)

As usual this site can be relied on for ignorance, the writer is saying the new constitution was accepted by all communities, well no the Sunnis overwhelmingly rejected it, in Anbar province by 97%, no amount of bullshit can take that away, secondly the only reason America is going after Syria and not Darfur because this suits the interests of Israel, when the hell are you bozos going to realise your resources are getting used up and y our people are dieing not for the American interest but for the interest of Israel and the political elite in America who support it.

At this moment America wont attack any of these countries not least with ground troops cuz they are too busy getting their arses kicked in Iraq, imagine it 20% of the population causing that much havoc how the hell will they cope in a country with overwhelming Sunni Arab population like Syria or overwhelming Shia population of Iran. So all I can say keep dreaming may be the best you might get is bombs dropped from 30,000ft which is usually what happens first anyway as you have all seen American troops would dare not venture into a city unless it has been flattened first by B52’s but in this case they will stop at the bombing from the sky.






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