Saving Darfur

The editors of the New Republic have a credulous plea for doing more to save Darfur.

The genocide in Darfur has been going on for three years now. And, for three years, the international community hasn’t done much to stop it. It has threatened, but not enforced, sanctions. It has sent peacekeepers, but with insufficient numbers and a weak mandate. It has decried “crimes against humanity,” but charged no perpetrators. And so the violence continues, with more than 200,000 people killed, two million left homeless, and the conflict now spilling over into neighboring Chad. The Sudanese government, meanwhile, has not even pretended to disarm its murderous Janjaweed militias.


It is commendable, then, that the Bush administration is starting to get serious about Darfur. At the United Nations, John Bolton is pushing for authorization of a more muscular U.N. force to take over for the African Union (AU), while the State Department is trying to get NATO to increase its logistical support. Both efforts are worthy. The current AU force is overwhelmed. Fewer than 7,000 troops patrol a region the size of Texas from the back of pickup trucks. All they can do is report back on violations of the sham cease-fire, escort a few humanitarian convoys, and, occasionally, accompany refugees who leave the relative safety of the camps to collect firewood.


The Bush administration will also have to step up political pressure at home. Last December, Congress refused the State Department’s request for $50 million to sustain the AU’s Darfur mission. As a result, State has had to take away money from Afghanistan to pay its Darfur bills. Congress is going to need a lot of convincing before it approves an even larger NATO commitment.

The excuse among American officials is not the usual one about military overstretch. They know that sending a battalion or two to Darfur is entirely feasible and could make a huge difference. Rather, they talk about a lack of appetite from the American public. “I don’t get a lot of people calling me on the phone or writing me letters saying, ‘Send U.S. troops to Sudan,'” Chris Padilla, chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, said during a December discussion at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. That may be, but six senators have found enough support among their constituents to sponsor a bipartisan resolution calling for NATO troops, including U.S. troops if needed, to stop the genocide in Darfur. Opinion polls, too, have found that a comfortable majority of Americans support sending U.S. troops to Darfur as part of a U.N. or NATO mission.

Nice as this may be, it simply is not going to happen. The American public has never had an appetite for risking American lives to stop Third World genocide for purely humanitarian reasons. Indeed, they have largely lost their will to fight in Iraq after historically minimal losses and the fact that our troops are killing America’s enemies by the hundreds.

The UN is, not unreasonably, reluctant to get involved in the peace enforcement business. It is a creature of its member states and has to be mindful of sovereignty of host governments.

The world largely sat by during the Rwanda trageda and regretted it only afterwards. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used the G word to describe Darfur well over a year ago. We have done next to nothing and, despite ratcheting up the rhetoric a bit, are likely to continue on that path.

Update: I would argue that the position of most Americans on this is not unreasonable. As Immanuel Kant observed way be in 1795,

[I]f the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future.

As a consequence, people in a Republic are willing to go to war only when they believe their own interests would be so negatively affected by not doing so that they have little choice. That, incidentally, is why the public is turning against the war in Iraq: they are no longer convinced that our fight there is protecting an American interest worth the cost.

Update 2: Austin Bay has a related thoughts at TCS.



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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jonk says:

    The U.S. will not get involved because there is no economic reason to. Rwanda offered nothing economically to the U.S. either…harsh, but that is the truth of it from my POV. Now if Joe Citizen lost his ability to buy his 5$ Starbucks latte because of what is happening in Darfur, then he would be up in arms and screaming for action.

    As long as the U.S. plebs have their Bread and Circuses, the rest of the world can die…

  2. LJD says:

    Rather, they talk about a lack of appetite from the American public. “I don’t get a lot of people calling me on the phone or writing me letters saying, ‘Send U.S. troops to Sudan,'”

    Just look at the overwhelming support for Iraq, where we were ALREADY engaged for over a decade, being shot at, making little progress on Saddam’s atrocities, all at the request of the U.N.

    Going to Darfur would generate little help from other countries, big problems for our troops, and after a few years of making matters worse, we would lose interest and pullout.

    I agree that most seem more concerned about their Starbucks…

  3. ICallMasICM says:

    No doubt there would be huge support, especially from civil rights and humanatarian NGO’s, for unilateral US intervention in Darfur. No doubt.