Genocide really is different from other foreign policy crises, in that it will not wait. Either you stop genocide immediately or you fail to stop it. And when it came to the question of troops, the Darfur activists were split. Many were uncomfortable with the use of force. Cheadle and Prendergast are candid about this: "Many of us peace and human rights advocates are rightly reluctant about the use of force. We need to get over it. There is such a thing as evil in this world, and sometimes the only way to confront evil is through the judicious use of military force." Amen, as long as "judicious" also means effective.
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.
At least one shortcoming of the Save Darfur movement cannot really be blamed on the movement's members. While its existence has undoubtedly helped to focus the attention of politicians on Darfur, it may also, in a bizarre way, have provided an excuse for these same politicians to avoid the fundamental responsibility that leadership entails. There is no better example than the introduction to Cheadle and Prendergast's book, which was written by Senators Barack Obama and Sam Brownback. "So what does it take to stop genocide?" they write. "What does it take to make the world listen and respond? It takes a number of important tools, including diplomacy, financial resources, and effective security forces. And in a world where these resources are finite, it often takes pressure--pressure from ordinary individuals standing together for an extraordinary cause--to mobilize these resources. In short, it takes you." Get it? Obama and Brownback are urging us to urge them to stop the genocide. And Obama repeats this weird formula in the movie version of The Devil Came on Horseback, remarking that "we need greater pressure from the American public to tell their senators this is something we are paying attention to, and we want you to prioritize it."
The circular nature of this logic is maddening, especially coming from Obama, who may soon be the most powerful man in the world. Such logic misunderstands the way a representative democracy works. The line that connects people to politicians is not a one-way street. In a democracy, leaders must be responsive to people's views--but people's views are also shaped by their leaders. The failure of leaders to act cannot be explained by the failure of the public to demand, or to demand more loudly, that they act, unless of course the leaders wish to be regarded merely as followers. Politicians have an obligation to do more than urge us to urge them to formulate solutions to problems, particularly when the problem is an emergency that requires swift action. Genocide will not be stopped by an ideas festival, in or out of government.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The Truth Will Not Set You Free
I am returning simply to post this excerpt from Richard Just's truly excellent article in The New Republic: "The Truth Will Not Set You Free" and urge you to read the entire thing: