The Sin of Cynicism

Humanitarian intervention has never really had much of a constituency in the global marketplace of ideas. In the colonized world, the very term was so long abused as a cover for imperial exploits that it has long since been drained of any real meaning. Only in certain corners of West – namely the left and the neoconservative right – did the concept ever really gain any traction. And in the wake of Iraq, which has increasingly been justified on humanitarian ground after the WMD argument proved fallacious, the idea that humanitarian ends can be accomplished by military means is regarded with the utmost dubiousness, if not downright ridicule.

This sentiment was crystallised with unrivaled cynicism this past week by Eric Posner, professor of law at the University of Chicago, in a Washington Post op-ed lucidly titled, “The Humanitarian War Myth.” Posner’s argument essentially boils down to a belief that when one looks at the history of humanitarian interventions, the cure has been more disastrous than the disease. Or, in his words, though the logic of humanitarian intervention seems compelling, “logic is no substitute for experience, and experience shows that humanitarian war is an oxymoron.” In short, humanitarian wars rarely achieve humanitarian results. He cites Somalia, Kosovo, and Iraq as both evidence and warning against doing anything interventionist about Darfur.

Posner: “The best humanitarians of our day recognize that we face a painful dilemma: to tolerate atrocities in foreign states or to risk committing worse atrocities in the course of ending them. From Rwanda, many people drew the lesson that failure to intervene is the worse option. The Iraq war may be the first step in unlearning this lesson. If not, an intervention in Darfur surely will be.”

But will it? Some old foreign-policy hands from the Clinton administration also took to the pages of the Washington Post to urge the United States to move beyond unenforced UN resolutions to the firm resolve to act.

“After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it.”

The authors – Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Donald Payne – acknowledge the gravity of the recommendation, yet counter that, “to allow another nation to deter the United States by threatening terrorism would set a terrible precedent. It would also be cowardly and, in the face of genocide, immoral.”

And Nicholas Kristof, ever persistent on this issue, offers an even less adventurous tactic. With the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur delayed indefinitely because of Sudan’s defiance, post them in the meantime in Chad and the Central African Republic — while still pushing to get them into Darfur itself. This is the suggestion of President François Bozize of the Central African Republic, a country that risks falling victim to the infectious legacy of Darfur.

The bottom line: Inaction is politically and morally unacceptable.

But as George Packer poignantly notes in the recent issue of The New Yorker, “since when does the world listen to Africans? Unless Ivorians and Congolese start blowing themselves up in front of Western embassies and shops, it seems, their grievances won’t be taken seriously.” Sad, indeed, but true.

Here is a prediction: President Clinton wrestled with a similar dilemma with the astonishingly fast-paced genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Ultimately, he did nothing. He has repeatedly cited this as one of the most-shameful moments of his presidency. It has been over two years since President Bush deemed the violence in Darfur a genocide. His decision to act on this declaration in a fitful and ineffective manner will be a uniquely damning blight on his profoundly blighted presidential legacy. This is both a cause and a result of Bush’s overarching failure: the obliteration of America’s moral legitimacy and credibility in the world.

To claim, as Posner does, that we must learn to tolerate atrocities in foreign states is little more than self-deceiving callousness.

Explore posts in the same categories: Darfur, Intervention

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