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What Killed the Campaign for Darfur?

Haaretz Chief Correspondent Shmuel Rosner explores: What killed the campaign for Darfur?He raises some important questions about whether the tendency of “save-Darfur” activities to be suspicious of agressive action let the world off the hook. Rosner writes:

Richard Just over at TNR [The New Republic] is doing a masterful job sorting through a long list of Darfur-related literature, and recapping the failure of the international community to deal with the genocide in this region. It is a long piece and worth reading, and it makes a lot of good points. For me, the most obvious and striking point deals with the unsolvable inherent contradiction between the need for urgent decisive action in Darfur and the tendency of “save-Darfur” activists to be suspicious of such aggressive action (particularly of American military intervention).

Just writes:

Eventually the movement coalesced around the idea that U.N. troops were the answer. In the wake of the Iraq debacle, the idea of sending U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur represented for many activists a sort of safe compromise?troops would be put on the ground, but American power would not be wielded. It was military action that they could endorse without opening a dissonance in their worldview. Even Prendergast, one of the most hawkish Darfur activists (and one of the smartest), endorses the U.N. option in his book as the solution that makes the most sense. To be fair, he has also suggested elsewhere that the United States should keep other military options on the table; but this latter position certainly places him outside the mainstream of the Darfur activist community.

Just is not the biggest fan of President Bush, and isn’t shy of putting some of the blame with him. But he is also honest enough to ask: “did liberals demand the right things of him? Did we push for what would really save the people of Darfur? Or did we get trapped by the inclinations of our worldview, and advocate for too little?” (I think the answer for these questions is a pretty clear now). However, as Just writes, the activists clamoring for UN help were conveniently forgetting one important thing (aside from the fact that the UN is not exactly known for its military competence): For the UN to act, one needs other countries to participate, many of them countries to which activists and their outrage mean nothing. Just dedicates only one paragraph in his article to the faults of China. But choosing the UN meant enabling the veto power of China over action in Darfur – which then, unsurprisingly, blocked effective measures against its ally Sudan.

A couple of months ago, I[Rosner] wrote in an article for Slate about the lessons of Darfur (an article for which I received numerous angry emails from activists arguing that my perception was too grim):

The campaign to save Darfur is alive, but it is no longer kicking. You could say that it has achieved all its stated goals: public awareness, international pressure, congressional action, the administration?s involvement. Well, all but one: The crisis in Darfur is not yet solved, and the campaign to save Darfur is running out of options.

While paying the understandable lip-service to the notion that it is not yet time to give up (“it is too soon to succumb to a retrospective spirit”), Just has convinced me that my assessment was correct. His article does not offer a new course of viable action, and goes into detail when it recounts the many complexities making this conflict harder to end. No wonder that the two presidential candidates aren’t making Darfur a centerpiece of their agenda. No wonder that voters do not demand such an agenda from the candidates. The old-style, activist-driven battle for Darfur is over. Choosing China over Bush is one reason that it ended before it even really began.

One comment

  1. Joel Wiesner says:

    From the NYTimes article this morning about Obama’s shift in foreign policy: “The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.”

    This shift under the control of the State Department will go a long way towards preventing these kind of atrocities in the future. Read the whole article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/us/politics/01policy.html?hp

    But fixing the current problem is a real challenge. The world should be ashamed.

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