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Prove me wrong -- please

The Boston Globe has an editorial today calling for Western intervention against the genocide going on in the Darfur region of the Sudan. It's a compelling argument, one I have a hard time criticizing, but I find I have to nonetheless.

Over a year and a half ago, in one of the ugliest pieces I've ever written, quite possibly the one essay I loathe, I took a cold, hard, pragmatic look at the Darfur genocide, and considered whether or not the United States could -- or should -- intervene.

And my damnable conclusion: no. We could not succeed, and we ought not try.

I'm bringing this back up as a challenge: please, argue with me. Prove me wrong. Show me my errors, my faulty assumptions, my mistakes.

I'd love to see that piece I wrote in August 2004 shredded, torn to bits, and scattered to the four winds. But damn me, I just can't see how it can be done.


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Comments (34)

You cannot help people that... (Below threshold)
Howard Burkhart:

You cannot help people that still have one leg still in the uncivilized world.

I think that we do need to ... (Below threshold)

I think that we do need to go into Sudan. One reason why your analysis should be diffferent from last times is that it is not the US alone this time, but the UN.
Further, as the violence crosses the boarder west into Chad, and both governments continue supporting rebels of the other side, the conflict will only grow and become more complex and harder to resolve later. Further, the violence in Niger could come into the mix, creating an even bigger problem later.

Sudans argument that UN occupation will be seen as more US determination to slaughter islam and drink muslem blood is ridiculous, as the only people who will think that already think it.

By going in with the UN and patrolling at least the boarder areas and western Sudan (the Fur region) we may be able to at leat stop the war from crossing boards and creating a regional humanitarian crises bigger than the one that already exists.

Let's not make a big deal o... (Below threshold)

Let's not make a big deal out of it. Pay private defense contractors to deliver AK 47s and training to those who are being genocided. Armed people are rarely subject to genocide.

The fierce people performing genocide generally turn and run with their tales between their legs when actually facing people who can shoot back.

One leg??????? Try two.... (Below threshold)

One leg??????? Try two.

ZTP,You mean the s... (Below threshold)


You mean the same UN that let 7,000 unarmed Moslem men and boys under their protection get killed Srebenicia? The same UN and its "peace keepers" that are sexually abusing the women and children they are supposed to be defending in various refugee camps? The same UN that stood by and did nothing while 800,000 were killed by genocide in Rwanda? Forgive me for doubting that the UN will be able to do anything in Sudan but make things worse.

This may be incredibly naiv... (Below threshold)

This may be incredibly naive, but it just seems to me that you cannot go wrong by doing what is right.

Jan Pronk, Annan's represen... (Below threshold)

Jan Pronk, Annan's representative to Sudan, just said yesterday that Al Qaeda is threatening to target any Western troops that set foot in Darfur. So that certainly isn't going to make Western nations want to rush in there (not that they want to anyway.)

The prospect of sending in NATO troops came about because the African Union mission sent there initially is obviously failing to stop the violence - but it was set up to fail from the very beginning as it had no mandate, little resources and few troops. And that is entirely the fault of the Western nations that pushed for the AU force.

Reluctant as they were to get involved themselves, they had an opportunity to both help the AU establish itself as an effective peace force on the continent and stop the slaughter of innocent people without involving Western troops. But these nations and the UN did not back up the AU mission and have allowed Khartoum to render it almost entirely useless.

For a variety of reasons, the UN and the rest of the world have been reluctant to press - and hard - the genocidal regime in Khartoum to stop the killing ... and not surprisingly, Khartoum has kept on killing. Khartoum is well aware that the West does not want to wade into Darfur - just for the reasons you have laid out. The AU force was thus a compromise between Khartoum and the West: the West got to look like it was doing something and Khartoum was merely saddled with a bunch of ineffective cease-fire monitors.

In all honesty, it should not take 10,000 Western troops to stop this. The African Union ought to be able to handle it - provided it has the proper mandate, equipment and support. But the nations who could provide such things have not done so and now the situation has dragged on for three years and 400,000 people have died.

I personally feel that Khartoum has a lot more to fear than we do if NATO forces end up on the ground. If NATO shows up, they know their days are numbered and that the country will probably be broken into pieces with the East, West and South all seeking independence or at least full autonomy.

My basic point is that the real threat of NATO intervention could, in itself, accomplish a great deal. It would probably induce Khartoum to accept a much larger AU force with an expanded mandate to protect civilians less a refusal leads to NATO troops on the ground. With an expanded mandate - and full logistical and economic support from NATO and the West - security could begin to be established, IDP camps emptied and political solutions discussed.

> But damn me, I just can'... (Below threshold)

> But damn me, I just can't see how it can be done.
Arm the victims.

Jay,I believe you ... (Below threshold)


I believe you were wrong then, and you're even more hopelessly wrong now. The fact is that failed states are breeding grounds for terrorism, and even the UN notes that al Qaeda is setting up shop in a big way in Sudan. Terrorist groups love failed states and dictatorships, and Sudan is both.

al Qaeda operated freely in Sudan during the 1990s, and they continue to operate there today. The genocide and ongoing violence only masks their actions and makes it more difficult to track their movements.

One of the reasons the Janj... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

One of the reasons the Janjaweed is succeeding is that they pay no price for their actions. The U.S. could change that with just a few unofficial advisors on the ground and a million AK47s we could get on the open market. These unofficial advisors could train and arm villagers.

The Janjaweed can't enter a village undetected as everyone in these small villages knows who belongs there and who doesn't. The Janjaweed don't walk to these remote villages, so roadside bombs might be an idea we could use from Iraq, but against the Muslims this time. Giving the non-Muslims the tools and training to defend themselves wouldn't cost us much in treasure, world opinion or American lives. Lets see just how much pain the Janjaweed can tolerate. Civil war is preferable to genocide.

"The same UN that stood by ... (Below threshold)

"The same UN that stood by and did nothing while 800,000 were killed by genocide in Rwanda"

So, we should do nothing now because it was wrong to do nothing then? I dont follow your logic

Jay,Don't beat yours... (Below threshold)

Don't beat yourself up about coming to the obvious answer. If the US government was supposed to act as the world police, we wouldn't have a UN. Well, I'd say we wouldn't need a UN, but they don't do enough to warrant that.

Well said. I was wondering that, too.

So, zpt,
When did the UN say they were going into the Sudan?

The choice on whether to ge... (Below threshold)

The choice on whether to get involved comes down to a simple (yes, simple) assessment of whether whatever we hope to accomplish is worth the cost, both in dollars and in the lives of American soldiers.

If it were strictly a matter of money (paying for some guns for those being terrorized), I would gladly support the expenditure. If we could accomplish some good without risking American lives (ala Clinton with his 30,000 foot war in Kosovo), that is also fine by me.

But neither of the above is going to happen. Doing something there can't be done with money alone and it can't be done from 30,000 feet up. It will require putting American troops in harms way.

And that is a price I don't feel is worth the 'good' that would result. American troops ought to be put in harms way ONLY to defend America and Americans, not in order to let bleeding hearts at home feel good about themselves. While it would be nice if all was good in that corner of the world, America's national security isn't being threatened by what is going over there and I frankly don't care enough about the people there to have Americans die on their behalf.

ztp,The point is tha... (Below threshold)

The point is that the probability of the UN actually stepping forward and doing something is very low.

ZTP,I think someth... (Below threshold)


I think something should be done, I am pretty sure the UN is not the right orginazation to do it.

My logic is that the UN has not been succesful in fighting genocide in the past, they are not likely to be successful in this case so if we want to stop the genocide in Sudan someone besides the UN will have to do the job.

I am not necessarily arguin... (Below threshold)

I am not necessarily arguing that the UN go in, but that some group go in, not just the US alone. It seems that the argument latly, at tleast in the NYT today, is that the US is the only country dragging its feet. My only point is that letting the conflict continue (could) create a problem much bigger than the one we have a choice to deal with now, and if the problem grows bigger we may not have the choice in the future.

A stitch in time saves nine

Steve Sturm,You sa... (Below threshold)

Steve Sturm,

You said

"Doing something there can't be done with money alone and it can't be done from 30,000 feet up. It will require putting American troops in harms way."

You know the saying "the perfect is the enemy of the good" Your statement above is a perfect example of this.

Why not try arming and training the people who are genocided? Why not try cruise missile diplomacy? If push comes to shove I suspect a few cruise missiles aimed in the direction of the leadership of Sudan with the promise to launch hundreds more if required would have a good chance of stopping the genocide. There is no doubt a few well trained and armed private military contractors on the ground would significantly help the situation.

You cannot stop the violenc... (Below threshold)

You cannot stop the violence in Darfur as long as Bashir is in control of Khartoum. The only way to succeed is to destroy the hard-line Muslim rule of the dictator at the top. Anything else would be fighting a war with one hand and both feet tied down - like we were forced to fight in Vietnam. That's not a winning situation.

Right now, the US has as many irons in the fire as we can manage. Maybe once we've dealt with a few other, more pressing issues, we can think about intervening in Sudan.

Jay, in the original post y... (Below threshold)

Jay, in the original post you make a powerful argument for Pakistani intervention in Sudan. Why Pakistan? They're Muslims, they're not Arabs, and they don't have any ambitions in the region.

Why should Pakistan intervene? Well, first of all, there's the Umma. It seems to me that intervention should be viewed as an act of piety. Then, Pakistan is a very large country and, while definitely not wealthy, they have the wherewithal to do the job. Finally, it seems to me that the prestige might be a motivation as well.

I'd be an isolationist if I... (Below threshold)

I'd be an isolationist if I could. I think that respecting the rights of nations to self-rule is important enough to allow pretty dang horrible things to happen.

I do oppose half-measures. Providing guns or training or otherwise pissing around without really doing anything useful or decisive.

IF a situation demands intervention THEN it requires decisive intervention.

Hands-off is best, but I think it's probably good to stop being coy about when we *do* intervene. If the problem is soooo bad that it can't be dealt with property or the local governments and their neighbors so illegitimate that they refuse to do so... the alternative should be complete dominance, UN or US... whatever. Not "peace keepers" but warriors.

After all, what are the consequences for anyone? Maybe someone will come in and make them *stop* but until then, just keep on keepin on. Do the governments *allowing* this to continue face any consequences? Will the government and army be destroyed and the complacent neighbors punished? Heck no. All that will happen is that they'll be made to stop.

What kind of incentive does that offer?

If the US has anything at all to do with it, it should be done in such a way that no one will *ever* risk something like that again.

I say we elect Hillary Clin... (Below threshold)

I say we elect Hillary Clinton + bring back Janet Reno to fix Darfur. Her last big mission only took 51 days. Gotta save the children right?

Where there is a will there... (Below threshold)
David J. Starr:

Where there is a will there is a way. Trouble is, there is very little (possibly zero) political will in the US to do anything in Darfur until after we have taken care of business in Iraq. One thing at a time is the popular wisdom. It is too bad, and will have awful consequences to the people of Darfur, but that's the way it is.
The only political possibility I see is to encourage some other power (India, South Africa, Brazil, Egypt, the EU, the UN, Russia, somebody, anybody) to intervene. We have the political will to offer support (favorable media coverage, logistical support, some funding, diplomatic backing) but some one else has to take the lead until the US has dealt with Iraq and nuclear weapons in Iran and N. Korea.

Jay Tea:I can't pr... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea:

I can't prove you wrong. On the one hand, I would very much like for the United States to intervene. However, I don't think it's possible for the US to intervene effectively, especially not now.

I honestly don't think the American military can accomplish the task right now because of existing commitments and potential threats.

Right now, the US has these commitments, as I recall it:

* Occupation and rebuilding of Iraq.
* Occupation and rebuilding of Afghanistan.
* Peacekeeping in Kosovo.

Because of hostiles in both Iraq and Afghanistan, relocating troops from those two theaters is foolish; their absence would cause the situations in both countries to deteriorate beyond tolerance.

Moreover, the United States must also prepare for possible hostilities involving Iran, North Korea, or China. With Taiwan inching toward independence, in fact, a confrontation with China seems inevitable.

With these existing commitments and potential wars looming elsewhere, I don't see how the US could hope to intervene effectively in Darfur.


Do we all remember the phra... (Below threshold)

Do we all remember the phrase "never again". Are we saying that never again only means when it affects our relatives?

Now going into Darfur would be really difficult and a very dangerous undertaking. Should we tell our grandchildren that this project was just too hard to do, didn't really affect Americans and so we simply left thousands to die?

I have children who are old enough to be in the military, and while none have joined yet, i would support them if they did. If they were ordered to perform a mission in Darfur, I would support their attempt to be one who helped never again to be real.

We should show the resolve to actually use the force, NATO or other coalition, necessary to stop the killing. It is the "right" thing to do and will allow us to actually say we were part of making never again mean something.

Cryptoref:Unfortun... (Below threshold)


Unfortunately, that sort of fuzzy-headed, idealistic appeal to mercy and legacy must yield to the more important questions of US national interest, US political will, and US military capability.

As I noted above, I don't see how the US can commit ground troops to this sort of operation -- because it would require ground troops -- and still maintain its commitments abroad.


You're both right. Seriou... (Below threshold)

You're both right. Seriously.

Cryptoref is right. And you're right, pennywit, though it's not because we *can't* maintain our commitments and do one more thing but that we simply *don't* have the national will.

Because, even people who say we should intervene in Darfur aren't going to want to do it properly. They're going to figure that we can just send a few troops to act as "Peacekeepers."

If we really *wanted* to, and had the national will to stop the killing in Darfur we could do it no matter we had a full scale war with Iran and North Korea at the same time. National will would mean significantly more people volunteering for military service... an ethos supported across the board. We *could* do it.

But we can't.

Because it would require ground troops and enough of them to force a change in all those institutions that make the massacre possible.

What is striking to me is t... (Below threshold)

What is striking to me is that no one is willing to consider using private military contractors in combination with cruise missile attacks to do the job.

Could someone explain this to me? Why does it demand 100% US boots on the ground? Why not try other alternatives first?

"The perfect is the enemy of the good"

What are you going to shoot... (Below threshold)

What are you going to shoot the cruise missiles at?

And mercenaries (private military contractors) acting on our behalf result in us being responsible for their misdeeds without having any control over their actions.

UN peacekeeper food-for-sex scandals ring a bell?

I want *our* troops on the ground, thank you very much.

We should be sending them g... (Below threshold)

We should be sending them guns and ammo so they can defend themselves. Same thing for other 3rd world nations where islam is creeping in.

Jay,You are right ab... (Below threshold)

You are right about U.S. intervention in Darfur. If your thinking is flawed, it is only because you have not gone far enough in considering a solution. This problem, as well as a lot of the world's problems, require a NATO intervention.

Of course, the problem with getting NATO to do anything involves socialist countries like France which could care less about spending money on a humanitarian military venture. They are too busy buying their own voters.

Until Europe gets their collective heads out of their collective asses, people will continue to unnecessarily die in Darfur and other places. But the Europeans have their 35-hour work weeks, wine, good food, and culture. Why should they care?

How about just shipping arm... (Below threshold)

How about just shipping arms to the people? Lots of spares in Iraq, an unarmed populace hasn't any chance.

Synova,Entertainin... (Below threshold)


Entertaining little arrogant statement you make

"I want *our* troops on the ground, thank you very much."

Never mind the genocide, never mind that fact that it is being caused by lightly armed people against a defenseless people. Never mind the fact that with arms and training the people who are being genocided can defend themselves.

Synova wants US troops on the ground so never mind the genocide what is really important is what Synova wants.


Hmmm.I'm probably ... (Below threshold)


I'm probably wrong on this but I have to sign onto the "Arm'em and teach'em to shoot" bandwagon.

Frankly Africa is a cesspit and there's hardly anything that could make it worse than it is. The only thing that might make it better is to arm the victims. The biggest danger is that we'd be funding the continent-wide civil war as the weapons percolated through the continent.

Then again if this means Robert Mugabe ends up dangling from a tree, photo of which I'd love to have, then I'm all for it.

Hmmm.On the other ... (Below threshold)


On the other hand we could always create an American mercenary expeditionary force to augment the US military. Specifically the Ghurkas.

The Ghurkas are wonderful light infantry soldiers with a long history of excellence in warfare. Plus Nepal has a rotten economy and many Ghurkas would probably jump at the chance to fight under an American flag with both excellent pay, benefits and an opportunity to become an American citizen.

And if there's anyone I'd hate to face on a battlefield it's a Ghurka.






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