Monday, December 11, 2006

Darfur and Reality

In the little town where I live there was a meeting on Saturday. It was a group of honestly concerned people talking amongst themselves about what to do about the carnage in Darfur. It may seem odd that a small number of people in a faraway place could think that they could help promote moral transformation on the other side of the world, but they did indeed have a plan. The plan was to coordinate letter-writing campaigns, perhaps demonstrations, and other sorts of "people power" activities to persuade the legislatures of the democratic world and the United Nations to do the obviously right thing.

Alas, reality bites. There is a reason that the bloodshed in a profoundly forlorn part of the world has gone on despite the fact that the US Department of State has declared it "genocide," and that the global progressive community has made the alleviation if not the outright elimination of violence there a top priority. That reason is that national interests are far more powerful than any manifestation of democratic outrage could be.

Even if the activists could persuade their legislatures to "do something" about Darfur were, what would they do? Get the UN to authorize some sort of military savior mission? Sadly, China and Russia have vetoes there, and both nations have a long-standing hostility to using the UN to intervene in the affairs of other nations. They do this not out of any high-minded principles but because they fear that one day the UN could interfere in their own countries. (The only reason the Korean War was authorized by the Security Council was that the Soviets boycotted the meeting, a mistake they quickly learned from.) In addition, China now buys quite a bit of oil from Sudan, and thus has a tremendous stake in keeping the government there unthreatened and stable. Making a big to-do about human rights and genocide is not consistent with their national interest, and so if necessary they will wield their veto to prevent the UN doing anything about it.

So politically correct multilateralism is out. What's left? Unilateral military action by the West? Some people (New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, for example) who are often skeptical of the American military actions they see are in favor, but most of the Darfur activists are not. The presumptive immorality of American military action trumps any concrete positive consequences from liberating Darfur. Even those, like Kristof, who advocate muscular action to stop the terror there appear to have little grasp of how such a thing would be militarily practical in the middle of the Sahara Desert, far removed from any American military bases.

Economic sanctions? Ah, reality again. Sudan is now a major exporter of oil, the lifeblood of global commerce. Sudan would hardly suffer at all from sanctions because of their newfound oil riches (the US imposes significant sanctions on Sudan now and the Sudanese hardly notice), and if sanctions with real bite were imposed they would expose the nations backing them to retaliation in the form of being shut out of Sudanese drilling.

In this case there is something almost quaint about the standard progressive twin certainties that morality comes from the popular will and that the popular will among right-thinking people can be mobilized to solve the world’s problems. This is why the UN delusion is so popular on the left; the UN is after all an organization that counts votes among representatives of the world’s various governments (thuggish though they may be), and is thus in their view the closest thing we have too global democracy. So of course political activism, without the necessity of taking old-fashioned national interest and realpolitik into account, should be sufficient to make sure that never again really means never again. If only the lessons of history would stop interrupting so rudely.

The group in my town is having another meeting next week. They will keep meeting, they say, until Darfur is peaceful.


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