Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tradeoffs and genocide

One has to admire the honesty of Barack Obama, who argued in the recent Democratic YouTube debate that even if rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq might lead to genocide, he'd favor going ahead and getting the troops out...

It's something Obama has clearly thought about. As he told the Associated Press later, "If [genocide is] the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now—where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife—which we haven't done. We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done."

In other words, let's get real. Let's not pretend we care about the possibility of future genocide in Iraq if we do little or nothing about it where it's already happening now. ...

For one thing, after Rwanda, after the former Yugoslavia, and during Darfur, there seems to be an emerging consensus, or at least an unspoken shared assumption, that genocide is not the exception but the rule in human affairs. ...

And now that genocide seems so common, the word seems to have lost some of its special power to move us, to shock us into action.

As a result, even if you call the chaos and killing that might follow troop withdrawal genocide, it's not enough to derail the exit. Genocide: Happens all the time, we can't be paralyzed by the word. ...

Our reaction to Darfur, however, an unequivocal ongoing genocide, illustrates what one might call a feel-good reaction to the phenomenon. It keeps going on and on, and we keep denouncing it and feeling good about ourselves for denouncing it, and nothing gets done. Again, the Democratic YouTube debate is illustrative. A YouTube question from a Darfur refugee camp prompted New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to say he'd been there, at that very refugee camp. And Joe Biden, not to be outdone, proudly boasted that he'd been there, too.

And look how much these powerful politicians who have been there have accomplished! Their tireless advocacy for action to end the genocide in Darfur has decisively turned the tide, hasn't it? Oh, wait. ...

Of course, every presidential candidate would evade the hard question by promising to "work with the United Nations and the world community" to prevent any such eventualities. But look how well that's worked in Darfur. (The July 30 U.N. resolution calling for a troop deployment to Darfur won't begin till the end of the year, may be too little, too late, and will encourage maximized killing for the next five months, at least until the troops arrive.) Tell us: When the United Nations fails, as it almost always does, how many U.S. troops, how many U.S. lives? To save how many people? The question asks the candidates to make a cold, hard calculation. But then, they want to be president, don't they? And that's one of the job requirements.
--Ron Rosenbaum, Slate, on the realpolitik of genocide

No comments: