Fighting the Good Fight

When we think about morality in our personal lives, we often focus on the simple, mundane choices that we face. Should we pay our tithing or not? How hard should we work at our jobs? How should we react when others criticize us? These are indeed moral choices, yet all of us face larger, more defining decisions every day. Let me sketch one such decision that we all currently face, as well as my belief about what the moral decision is — and some of the reasons that I’m not making that moral choice.

The longstanding genocidal conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan has spread into the eastern regions of neighboring Chad. As in Darfur, Arab militias from Chad and from across the border in the Sudan (called the janjaweed) are now slaughtering black African residents of the region wholesale. There are political aspects of the struggle, but much of the killing seems purely racial, purely genocidal.

Actress Mia Farrow, who recently went through Chad as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, shared the following story of a girl who had been forced out of Darfur during a massacre three and a half years ago (the account can be found in a recent interview with Voice of America radio):

Now, the janjaweed had found [the girl and her mother in eastern Chad]. To compound the tragedy, a group of children that she had been with were playing with a grenade that they found because the area is so militarized now. And they picked up a grenade, which exploded, severely wounding 18 children, she among them. And as she lay in bandages, with flies settled on the bandages, she said my family says that the international force is going to come in and protect us. And then she said we’ve waited so long.

International action to end this emergent genocide in Chad is, to date, essentially nonexistent; indeed, international efforts have only been partially successful in neighboring Darfur, as this cross-border outbreak of violence illustrates.

Do we, as Mormons and (mostly) U.S. citizens, have any kind of moral obligation to help these victims of mass murder in Chad? I think we must; as followers of Christ, we are to value others, even strangers, as highly as we value ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mosiah 23:15; 3 Nephi 12:43). If we would consider ourselves obligated to protect anyone against arbitrary acts of murder, we are also enjoined to consider ourselves obligated to protect the African victims of the janjaweed. This lesson is reinforced by a consideration of the account of the people of Ammon, who the Nephites protected against a unilateral identity-based massacre initiated by their neighbors (see Alma 35 and nearby chapters). The situation is not, of course, exactly parallel — but it is the most parallel of any scriptural situation that I can find.

So, let us conclude that we have a moral obligation to the victims in Chad. What can we do to discharge that obligation? Political action within the U.S. is likely to be unproductive. This is primarily because there is no available U.S. military power; the American military is almost fully committed to the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and the resources necessary to run the kind of major defensive mission needed in Chad are almost certainly unavailable. For the same reason, actions by U.S. citizens on the world stage are likely to be unpersuasive. Our country has nothing to offer, so who will listen?

Donations to humanitarian groups are likely to be of some help. The displaced survivors of Darfur and Chad do need food, shelter, medicine, and clothing. Yet humanitarian groups are of somewhat limited value in ending an ongoing massacre. To save those lives, military action of some kind seems to be needed.

Perhaps that is what we morally ought to do: arm ourselves, organize ourselves, and go to eastern Chad to fight the janjaweed militias. Fifty or a hundred well-organized and well-equipped people could probably defend the currently-defenseless refugee camps, saving thousands of lives. Most readers of this post are probably not trained military personnel; on the other hand, neither are most of the militiamen who are perpetrating the massacre. So our efforts might well be useful. This action, though radical, seems to be relevant to the problem at hand, within the power of most readers of this post, and responsive in a way that other available options would not be. What will any of us accomplish in the next six or twelve months that would be worth more than helping save thousands of lives?

Even so, I find that I’m unwilling to do this. Why? First, I have to admit that I’m scared of making a bumbling idiot of myself, in the way that some other private efforts at military action seem to have done. Second, I may simply suffer from physical cowardice; there is a lot of risk involved in the kind of action I’m discussing. Third, I suffer from moral uncertainty. While the cause of fighting the janjaweed and preventing genocide seems just, the action of killing — on my own authority, without the structures of military command and hierarchy to diffuse decision-making and responsibility — is extreme enough that I fear for the consequences to my soul if I have miscalculated.

What are you willing, or unwilling, to do in order to save thousands of lives?


  1. The United States still has the capacity to impose a no fly zone.

    Another possibility would be to be to arm and equip the Africans to defend themselves. Obviously, that would minimize the control we would be able to exercise.

    By the way, the more brutal we are willing to be, the less soldiers we need on the ground. One brigade with lots of air power could drive out the Sudanese forces pretty quickly as long as we are willing to only ask once and enforce without mercy.

    Some might argue that brutality in lieu of forces might be a worse cure than the disease. Another possibility would be to supplement minimal forces with money. Apparently, the Janjeweed feel demoralized and used by the Kartoum government. May be, it would be possible to buy them off as soon as we have the capacity to neutralize the Sudanese regular forces.

    I am not saying that any of this is a good idea but it appears to me that there are a lot more options than meets the eye.

    If we brainstormed for half an hour then we would come up with half a dozen more. Each one would entail promising and troubling implications. But in the end, we lack the will to help the people in Darfur, not the means.

    We just don’t want to do it. Sad, isn’t it?

  2. Hellmut,

    I want to help. I’m just at a loss as to how I can, help. What, write to my congressional representatives? That’s not done any good; and as Jay says, the US military is in no position to help.

    Is there some way to donate funds to an African Union force, or a UN force?

  3. Urgh. Sorry about that errant comma in my last comment.

  4. Hellmut, thanks for your comments. I think some of your proposed solutions might not work too well. For example a no-fly zone could be imposed — but my understanding is that most of the killing is being done on horseback, not by airplane. Supply lines might get complicated for the Janjaweed, but I bet they’d manage.

    I certainly do agree that there are probably additional options. I would hope that we could discuss them and weigh them off against each other, although I haven’t yet heard enough of that kind of discussion. One thing to think about, though, is that time is absolutely of the essence. That’s where personal military intervention of the kind I’m unwilling to do has an advantage of sorts…

  5. JNS,

    Would you be in favor of sending in US troops to stop the Janjaweed and essentially confront the Sudanese Government? How many troops would it take? I would like to see an estimate on what it would take militarily to stop the genocide. It seems like a slow moving version of Rawanda.

    It would take the US military to stop this. We have 160K troops in Iraq and another larger number of combat troops back in the US on rotation from Iraq. Do we have 20-30K troops available? I would say if there was a political will to do so we could muster the troops.

    We could also count on the UK, Canada, and the Aussies for a few thousand as well. India could potentially be a source as well. Most of our other western allies have pretty much dropped the ball as far as the military is concerned and can no longer muster any type of military force in crisis situations.

  6. Blair could move the troops he is taking out of Basra and send them to Sudan.

  7. bbell,

    On your question of whether I would favor sending US troops to stop the Janjaweed, my answer is: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!!!! I can’t offer any kind of sensible estimate regarding how much manpower would be needed to stop this mess, although my guess is that it would be a lot. This thing has the shape of a guerilla/insurgent war, and those take boots on the ground. On the other hand, we shouldn’t let that stop us. If all we have is the force to make a dozen refugee camps safe, let’s do that. We’ll still be saving lives. Let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    But the fact is that any kind of movement on this would almost certainly require drawing down force levels in Iraq. So it seems to be a non-starter in our current national dialogue. I guess what we ought to do, then, is change the dialogue. Let’s generate political will to act. How?

  8. Perhaps we should spread a rumour that the Janjaweed have WMD’s…

  9. Fascinating question; if I think that Cause X is so important, then why am I waiting for someone else to do something about it? Perhaps so as to not be a self-guided force accountable to none. Probably because I’m lazy.

    If you want an army to enter Chad, consider the French. They sent 4,000 soldiers to Ivory Coast a couple years ago, and Chad was also a French possession.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, perhaps we should spread a rumour that Chad and the Sudan have substantial untapped oilfields.

  11. Steve,
    I also hear that they hate freedom.

  12. I hear the Janjaweed can get rid of cataracts if you smoke it.

  13. I repent of that last post.

  14. Your question calls to mind last Sunday’s NY Times Op-Ed “A Family History Like Too Many Others” by Daniel Mendelsohn. He describes the 1930s and 1940s “genre” of letters from German Jews asking for help in escape the impending danger. He gives his own family example and that of the recently discovered letters of Ann Frank’s father desperately asking friends and family in 1941 for $5,000 for a deposit to obtain a visa.
    We discussed the letter as a family, asking ourselves what we would have done then to help a relative or stranger in Otto Frank’s situation, and what we are doing or would do now to help those in the loosely analogous situations in Africa. I have no satisfying answers.
    In our personal efforts we’ve focused on helping individuals. You ask what people would do to save “thousands of lives.” I’m very interested whether there are practical, effective answers to the question. I think individuals in wealthy countries should be willing to spend at least thousands of dollars and dozens of hours offering aid, if an effective means and medium can be identified.
    Nicholos Kristof of the NY Times is certainly trying his hand by giving the issue sustained press coverage.

  15. The Arab league and other Islamic countries are providing diplomatic cover for the Sudanese government. After all its OK to kill an infidel. Even more so if they are not people of the book. Many of the residents of Darfur are traditional animists.

    The Arab league is acting like Russia did with Serbia in the 1990’s.

  16. JNS, you are discounting the role of air power in the genocide too quickly. If the Africans had to defend themselves only against tribals on horses, they would be in a much better position.

    In fact, Sudanese planes and helicopters are the primary tools of suppressing African efforts of self-defense.

    You might want to check Sudan Watch, which does a pretty good job keeping track of the media reports.

    Taryn, I am afraid that there is no short cut around organizing. If we are serious then we have to get together with like minded people and conduct a series of protest actions. We do have natural allies in the Congressional Black Caucus.

    You could begin, for example, by setting up a Save Darfur chapter on your campus.

    I have to admit that I have not done it either. The problem is that I have not made it a priority.

    Priority means that I would have to drop something else. I have not been willing to do that yet. In that sense, one has to conclude that I have assumed a share of the guilt for the Darfur genocide.

    There’s no way around that.

  17. Matt W, please don’t ever repent of making somebody laugh. I got a good belly laugh out of that one.

  18. JNS, a great post. We Mormons do have precedent. Zion’s Camp sounds like what you have requested, but everyone died of cholera or realized a civil war was not what they really wanted.

    What about someone like Carol Gray and her Starlight UK Foundation? She’s a Mormon who had the same problem you did but decided to start driving huge trucks of supplies right into conflicts. It was hard to argue with a British grandmother. She’s wonderfully inspirational. My wife had her come to a class she was teaching on activism and give a presentation. She is and was fantastic. The self-involved undergraduates were just about in tears after the talk.

  19. JNS – this only applies to British Citizens unfortunately, but the Prime Minister’s website allows you to create online petitions to send to him – there is one for Darfur action here

    It doesn’t feel like anywhere near enough, but right now, I can’t think of anything else I could do.

    Is there the same opportunity to do like-wise in the US?

  20. Hellmut,

    The problem is that people here are already conducting protest actions and publicity campaigns – lots of them. It’s just not a winning strategy in this case; we’re militarily overcommited elsewhere, so our legislators, the White House, and the media are going to continue to ignore such things.

    Political actions are a tricky thing here, because the techniques we’ve traditionally used are no longer effective. Even organized street protests are no longer useful in the U.S. The national media pretty much blacks them out. (An example of this is what happened with the protests when we invaded Iraq – San Francisco and its suburbs were pretty much paralyzed; everything was shut down; the streets were one giant march; and the rest of the U.S. never found out. The BBC covered it, but even the New York Times pretty much ignored it). And so further organizing of protests and political action groups might make the organizers feel good, but they’ll do no good for the people dying in Sudan and Chad.

    I’ve written letters anyway, because there’s no excuse avoiding such simple action. But I’m not willing to burn up my time or money with activities which won’t help anyone. I want to direct both into things which will actually help. And I don’t think my government is a good bet for that.

    (By the way, I’m not a college student).

  21. Your idea sounds like an episode of the A Team. If we go, can I be Mr. T?

    What would I do to save a thousand lives? Not charge into a situation I don’t really understand completely and commit acts that, however well-founded, may have terrible repurcussions I cannot predict. Even the calls here for no-fly zones and violations of the sovereignty of fragile nations in volitile regions are shortsighted and display the arrogance of the powerful.

    If we have the resources and information to really help, then we should. But perhaps we do not need to look across the world to Love Our Neighbor. One of my students last year wrote in an essay last year, ‘In each square kilometre of the earth is enough suffering to empty us of our tears.’ Perhaps the thousand lives we can save are in our own neighborhood.

  22. The lever that always works is primary politics. The challenge is that it takes a lot of people.

    It is not correct to say that we can do nothing. It’s just very difficult. That applies to individuals and the United States government.

    If we are too involved elsewhere to stop a genocide then that means that we have to drop another commitment. That’s what it means to have priorities.

    As for the protest, I have not seen a sustained mass effort to press our government to get involved. I am seeing a small band of courageous activists who neither have enough money nor enough people to make a difference.

    It is not correct to say that we did everything we could. I have not even joined a group of like minded people and neither have most of us. There is a lot that can be done when people get together.

  23. By the way, this discussion reminds me of Arthur Miller’s drama Broken Glass.

  24. Norbert, I’m always worried by the idea that we ought to concentrate our efforts on helping the suffering right next to us. It’s a matter of simple fact that, for those of us who live in developed, OECD countries, the level of suffering very close to us is extraordinarily smaller than the level of suffering a bit further away. Well-intentioned though it is, the argument that we ought to concentrate on the nearer, lesser suffering becomes a way of reinforcing the system of division and inequality that produces the much greater suffering in the countries of the global south.

    Sovereignty is also an argument of the powerful. It serves to protect the tyrants of nondemocratic countries, and it also serves to protect the interests of the very wealthy in the developed world. So I’m hesitant to conclude that we ought to unconditionally respect appeals to sovereignty. Would it not have been better to violate Rwanda’s sovereignty than to stand by and watch as the biggest massacre of the 20th century occurred?

    Let’s get this out in the open. Pretty much everyone in this forum is from powerful nations and leads privileged lives. We can’t shed that perspective. What we can try to do is exercise Christian empathy. Sometimes, I think that means literally fighting the good fight; sending troops, weapons, or ourselves to protect the defenseless. If nothing else, we could at least find some way of defending refugee camps. That’s about as purely humanitarian an act as I can imagine.

    Hellmut, I agree that there are things that can be done. Starting on campuses is probably relatively unhelpful. Politicians know that students are easily mobilized, so such messages are probably substantially discounted. Letter-writing campaigns continue to be an idea, although there have been several on this issue. As far as primary politics are concerned, I unconditionally pledge to vote for, work for, and donate my maximum yearly contribution to any candidate who comes forward with a workable plan on this issue. But I don’t expect to have to redeem that pledge, unfortunately. We need new ideas and new solutions.

  25. Eric Russell says:

    Great post, JNS. Whenever we can intervene for good, we should. Unfortunately, situations like this cannot be resolved on the individual level. The majority of the country would have to want to intervene, and we are far from that. Americans frown on it, but it seems like we are otherwise apathetic to the mass murders of the Sudan, much like many of us are inexplicably apathetic towards the thousands of innocent people dieing in Iraq. People would probably cheer the initial barrier to genocide that military involvement would create, but after a couple years and a slow but steady rate of American casualties, the bulk of Americans would not support it.

    So the question of what we can do is a good one. My best offer is simply to continue to talk about it, to maintain awareness. Perhaps, in time, enough people will care. But in the mean time, and from a specifically LDS position, God has not commanded us to go out and fight the bad people. He’s commanded us to get married and rear families, to get an education in order to get jobs that will support those families. As such, I think the Lord simply expects us to do our best within our own means.

  26. Jason, just the category of organization you suggest is kind of fascinating, and would probably actually be one that you could draw people for–a non-profit private military organization, (so, charity-based mercentaries, if that’s not a complete contradiction in terms), which could be then hired by the refugees. Think of it as a whole new kind of aid group/NGO! Muscular christianity indeed!

    (Additionally, by creating an organization whom the refugees, and perhaps the Chadian government, could contract with, the organization would have some standing in the context of international law, just like any other private military corporation. And, by organizing it as such, you would mitigate some of the authority issues.)

  27. Just for full effect – once we raise a sizeable Mormon millitia and suppress the Janjaweed, and all that, we can offer Mitt Romney a couple sketchy-looking High Priests with AK-47s to flank him at every campaign speech, while glaring at the audience.

    Then we can start hanging out outside of Southern Baptist conventions….


  28. RT:

    I agree that we all should see ourselves as citizens of the world, and there are things we can do. But the sense that a large power (or a small group of brave fellows from Provo:) ) could go into a complex situation without complicating a situation that is already more complex than the moral outrage that demands action seems naive. I agree that we should do what our political and financial makes possible, but calling our congressman and asking for instant, unilateral action in Sudan is misguided. The misadventures of the USA in Iraq make that impossible because of resources and because of the poisonous perception of the USA in most of the world at this point.

    There are literally thousands of situations in the world that can be an application of the commandment to love our neighbors. Will we take them all on? Will we devote one week to Darfur, the next to street children on Bangkok, move on to the homeless in California, and become a serial crusader? Or do we focus our efforts and resources on things we can really get our head around? That doesn’t have to be in our own neighborhood or even our own country, but it should involve more than being angry, however righteous that anger is.

  29. Just a thought. I am not advocating this at all.

    There are probably enough firearms in LDS hands here in the US to outfit a few thousand men with at minimim a bolt action deer rifle and quite a few with AR 15’s. I would argue that there is at a minimum 1MM firearms in LDS hands in the US. There might be that many amongst the LDS in Idaho alone based on my exp. in Southeast Idaho.

  30. Seth (#27),
    World peace Shadow of the Hegemon (Orson Scott Card) style, I like it.

  31. I have a European non-member friend that has over time, met with Missionaries. On one ocassion, she met with a companion team made up of an American/Inter-Mountain West missionary, and a native European. She amused when she sensed disharmony between the missionaries as she pressed for a Church position on the atrocities in Africa. Not getting a satisfactory answer on a formal Church opinion, she decided to circumvent the original question and inquired on a more personal level of the Missionaries, “Which is more pressing, abortion or genocide?”

    The American chimed in on the abortion side offering some very solid verses on posterity from Genesis, mainly Adam and Abraham, and wrapped up by using a popular parable about the seeds in an apple: you can count the seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the apples in a seed.

    Not surprising, the European missionary chose genocide and went right to the Plan of Salvation and doctrine including short bits on: 1) people grouped together in the premortal life and standing in judgement for the principles/spirit they followed and how in our judgement, 2) that we will not only be judged individually, but collectively with and within our generation.

    While both views had sound doctrine, the American view played right into what my friend admits as her own European generalization of Americans being more interested in regulating their citizens (especially women) than working with the world.

  32. Speaking of college student-activism, last night I saw a bunch of flyers posted in the Joseph F. Smith Building (the new humanities building at BYU)advertising some live acoustic acts tonight (Friday, 2/23/007)at a stage in the Provo River Bottoms. Suggested donation is $4/head, proceeds to go towards aid efforts in Uganda.

  33. Chuck McKinnon says:

    I think Mark Steyn answered this one best:

    In 2003, you’ll recall, the US was reviled as a unilateralist cowboy because it and its coalition of the poodles waged an illegal war unauthorised by the UN against a sovereign state run by a thug regime that was no threat to anyone apart from selected ethnocultural groups within its borders, which it killed in large numbers (Kurds and Shia).

    Well, Washington learned its lesson. Faced with another thug regime that’s no threat to anyone apart from selected ethnocultural groups within its borders which it kills in large numbers (African Muslims and southern Christians), the unilateralist cowboy decided to go by the book. No unlawful actions here. Instead, meetings at the UN. Consultations with allies. Possible referral to the Security Council…. The US agreed to go the UN route and it looks like they’ll have a really strongish compromise resolution ready to go about a week after the last villager’s been murdered and his wife gang-raped.

    Read the whole thing (PDF), and then explain to me how one can argue for our moral obligation to save innocent civilians in Darfur, while simultaneously insisting we have no business in Iraq. I frankly find the double standard nauseating.

  34. We recently moved to Nigeria and deal daily with the question “what can I do to help the suffering around me?” It wouldn’t take a square kilometer here to see enough suffering to empty you of tears. The magnitude of the need and poverty and suffering are so overwhelming that it’s difficult to know what to do. We give more in our fast offering – but church members seem in pretty good shape compared to many of the beggars that approach me in my car. Issues of personal security have to take precedence here. Our driver doesn’t want us to hand out money from the car because the beggars remember who gives and the car is marked and even more beseiged. Many of the most desperate appearing cases are beggars that are pimped and don’t get to keep much if any of what they receive. I try to look them in the eye and smile and acknowledge their humanity, but that doesn’t give them what they want. It’s a struggle to not get hardened to their need and lose empathetic feelings.

    Eric — you said “the Lord simply expects us to do our best within our means.” But this isn’t simple. I have huge means compared to most of the population here. I could give away everything I have and not make much of a dent in the need. How much should I give and where should I give it?

    I’m focusing on what’s in my daily sphere of influence and not worrying about Chad and the Sudan. But I do think we have to just do our best with who and what we encounter each day and try to get guidance from the Spirit in what we need to do. I just wish it was easy…

  35. Finally someone said it! It always amazes me how in a ongoing war, the same people who are demanding peace and withdrawal of troops are so ready to advocate military action on some moral high ground. Sounds like a great way for thousands to die in a meaningless war that drags on forever because we have no exit strategy. Sound familiar?

  36. Chuck #33, in 2003 there was a genocide in Darfur, not in Iraq.

    It is not reasonable to invoke the criticism of Iraq to excuse inaction in Darfur. People are upset about Iraq because the invasion lacked justification and created millions of refugees and over one million casualties. Self-serving wishful thinking will rarely earn the praise of the international community.

    None of this applies to Darfur.

    While there was plenty of criticism when the United States ended ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, there also was no shortage of allies. In fact, the German government, which included the Greens, participated in a war for the first time since World War II.

    Likewise, if US leadership created a coalition of African and European powers, there would be some anti-American protest but there also would be support and allies.

    The Iraq debacle is on Bush and Cheney who approach the world as if other powers where American provinces. It is no wonder that people respond with hostility when they are constantly lectured by a couple of fools.

    Strange, other American presidents did not have that problem.

  37. Whilst Saddam was a major league despot with a great deal of blood on his hands, it is worth pointing out that at the time of the invasion his genocidal tendencies had already been curbed by the no-fly zone. There was no way Saddam could have killed Kurds and Shiites in any large numbers.

    None of this is intended to paint Saddam’s brutal police state in a rosy hue, but if we are to compare evils, the evils of scary-but-stable 2003 Iraq and the terrifying-and-unstable 2007 Iraq are poles apart. If we were to ask the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died since 2003 whether they preferred Saddam’s mukhabarat or the terrorists and death squads who now roam the place, I think they would choose the former. To make Iraq even worse than it was is quite the achievement, and Messrs. Bush and Blair should take a bow.

    The situation in the Sudan and Chad is very different. The motives of the janjaweed and their masters are similar to Saddam’s intentions towards his enemies, but the difference is that there is no-one to stop them. Again, in the 90s and until 2003, Saddam was utterly neutered. He did not have the capability to kill millions anymore (unlike during his disastrous CIA-backed Persian conflict). I agree with Hellmut that a no-fly zone in Sudan might have a similar effect. A bit of muscle would do wonders and would save lives. But having seen Bush and Blair cry wolf in Iraq, the public simply does not have the will. That’s another tragedy to add to Iraq II.

  38. What’s sad to me is that the EU has been unable to provide any effective leadership on Darfur. America is hamstrung by gravely incompetent leadership and consequent militarily entanglement in Iraq. Clearly the U.S. is not going to do much for Darfur. What is the rest of the world’s excuse? Is world leadership today Bush & Co or nobody at all?? We’re talking Sudan here. There are several other powers with the capacity to impose a no-fly zone or otherwise militarily intervene. As noted above, it would not be terribly difficult to protect those refugee camps.

    re: 37 So true. Wow. The notion that most Iraqis would prefer a return to the Saddam era is just jaw-dropping. What on earth have we done??? Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me Mr Vice President: We’re just watching the birth-pangs of democracy!

  39. Mike,
    I think the Shiites, despite their suffering under Sunni terrorism, are probably glad to bid Saddam adieu. But the dead ones — being dead — would probably prefer to be alive. All they know is that under Saddam they were alive and now they are dead.

  40. Ronan,

    In the event of US military intervention the exact same line could be said about innocent civilians in Africa that will die who might otherwise have lived.

    I agree with the prior posters that point out the hypocrisy of those wishing for military intervention in Sudan yet unwilling to stomach the results (and follow through on them) of military intervention in Iraq.

    At this stage I view the Iraq war as half humanitarian mission anyway. Our presence helps keep both sides in check, should we leave many more will die then would otherwise have to. Given the lack of desire for us to finish Iraq right, why should I trust that my fellow countrymen (and the World at large) will have the stamina to endure to the end of the Sudan conflict should we enter it? Once the media starts showing images of innocent civilians dying, more and more of our troops are dying, and people start asking “What are American soldiers dying in Sudan for? Where is our national security interest there? Our soldiers signed up to protect our country not protect other countries!” etc etc. At least Iraq has a valid national security part to the equation given it’s presence in the middle of the Middle East. But this would be a purely humanitarian mission with no risk to the US in evidence.

    In other words, I would usually be supportive of entering another conflict where I believe we could do some good with minimal loss. I believe that the US has an obligation to do so as a Super Power, it should use it’s influence for good. But the constant anti-war mentality has worn me down.

  41. Aluwid,

    Yes, there will be innocent people getting killed by an intervention but it will be relatively few. Killing dozens to repatriate millions, sparing them rape, disease and starvation is worth it.

    By contrast, Iraq is a predicted quagmire. There are parallels between Darfur and Iraq but they are few and not essential.

    The biggest difference is that Darfur’s population is basically on our side, which makes it impossible to conduct a guerilla war against an intervention force.

    By definition, guerilla wars blur the distinction between combatants and civilians. Mao’s dictum was that the guerilla fighters shall swim among the population like fish in the water. That’s why Iraq is so bloody.

    Iraq specialists such as Phoebe Marr from the National Defense University have pointed out as early as 1999 that we lack Sunni allies. Accordingly, Brent Scowcroft and many other have predicted an insurgency, which would have a base among the Sunni population.

    Strategically, Darfur has a lot more in common with Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo than with Iraq. This is not a matter of opinion but of facts. Because the Sudanese government lacks popular support in Darfur, it will not be able to conduct a guerilla war against an intervention force.

    Things would change if we were to take over northern Sudan but there is neither need nor motive to do that.

    Finally, an intervention would have to be diplomatically prepared. It should form a coalition of European, North American, and African nations. Most importantly, we would have to obtain Saudi consent to isolate Sudan on the question of Darfur.

  42. Aluwid,

    You’re missing my point. We have helped make a serious mess in Iraq and so we of course bear some responsibility for clearing it up. Whether or not Iraq would be better off with or without us is, of course, a fraught question.

    No, what I am talking about is the no-fly zone which already existed in the 90s to protect the Kurds and the Shiites and which was spectacularly successful. That’s what we could do in Sudan, basically create an exclusion zone around the camps.

    So, I’m calling for the kind of thing that contained Iraq in the 1990s not a full-scale stupid invasion like Iraq II. Not all war is equal in its folly.

  43. Chuck McKinnon says:

    Hellmut #33: While it agreed that serious human rights violations have occurred in Darfur, the official U.N. report insists that what happened there was and is not genocide (full report here (PDF)). Doesn’t that make you feel better?

    Black humour aside, it’s hard to compare civilian murders under Saddam with civilian slaughter by janjaweed militia because estimates in both places are uncertain and ongoing (continued mass grave exhumations in Iraq; continued slaughter in Sudan). What figures there are, though, put the numbers at the same order of magnitude. Here’s a speech in 2000 by Clinton’s Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, David Scheffer, detailing the crimes Saddam had committed against his own people: his numbers in that article sum to between 100,000 and 260,000, which matches reports by Human Rights Watch from the same period. Recent reports from the Darfur region put the estimates in the same ballpark.

    I would also argue that Saddam’s regime was more premeditated about its evil than the janjaweed, whose modus operandi seems to be the standard rape, pillage and burn. For example, I’ve yet to hear of anything comparable to this report by U.N. arms inspector (and Iraq war opponent) Scott Ritter:

    Q: You’ve spoke about having seen the children’s prisons in Iraq. Can you describe what you saw there?

    A: The prison in question is at the General Security Services headquarters, which was inspected by my team in Jan. 1998. It appeared to be a prison for children — toddlers up to pre-adolescents — whose only crime was to be the offspring of those who have spoken out politically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a horrific scene. Actually I’m not going to describe what I saw there because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I’m waging peace.

    Paul Wolfowitz heard from Ritter firsthand and wouldn’t let him weasel out of it that easily; he gave more details about Ritter’s original report in a 2002 interview:

    I can tell you what he [Ritter] did say was that the stench of human excrement and vomit was everywhere, that the prisoners were howling and crying and clearly deprived of food and water and the oldest prisoner was twelve and the youngest was a toddler. This was a prison for children who had been political enemies of the Iraqi regime. I think only North Korea is a place where you could find such horrors in the world today and there are obviously a lot of pretty bad governments.

    In light of the above, I don’t think the facts support your assertion that the human tragedy in Darfur is worse than that it was in Iraq. Moreover, the U.N. has very recently declared there to be no military solution to Darfur, making it unlikely that any U.S.-proposed military intervention in Darfur would be as unopposed as you suggest.

    Ronan #37: I agree with you that Iraq pre- and post-Saddam are poles apart, but I’d switch the poles. See the children’s prison, etc. above. The economy there is booming — salaries up, taxes down, 34,000 companies on the books where a couple of years ago there were only 8,000. No, it’s not perfect (30 to 50% unemployment!) but it’s improving.

    Re: no-fly zones — Even the U.S. military cannot afford to indefinitely maintain no-fly zones around every despot nation in the world. I think there’s a legitimate argument around whether, if we topple governments, we ought to rebuild as we did in Japan and Germany and are now attempting to do in Iraq, or leave countries to their own devices with the promise of future help or future reprisals depending on their choice of subsequent governments (thus avoiding long-term entanglements like we now have in Iraq). But a no-fly zone of indefinite duration is no more a solution in the Sudan than it was in Iraq.

    I stand by my original argument: one cannot advocate for military intervention in Darfur on the one hand, and withdrawal from Iraq on the other, without applying a double standard. On specific points I’ve been careful to argue from sources that I can link to; I’ve seen nothing comparable from anyone with opposing views. Indeed, so far I have seen nothing but empty, blanket assertions — and that’s the part I find nauseating.


    P.S. And Steve Evans #10 — no need to invent anything; Sudan has proven oil reserves of 1.6 billion barrels. People have been arguing since 2004 that oil might serve as the “real” reason for an Anglosphere intervention. I’ll take any odds you care to name that within months, if not weeks, Darfur would just be “blood for oil” all over again.

  44. Chuck McKinnon says:

    Test post — I made a rather long response to Hellmut #34 and Ronan #37 but it has not appeared. Is there a length limit to comments? Mine (links included) was 892 words.

  45. Chuck McKinnon says:

    Ronan #37: I agree with you that Iraq pre- and post-Saddam are poles apart, but I’d switch the poles. See the children’s prison, etc. above. The economy there is booming — salaries up, taxes down, 34,000 companies on the books where a couple of years ago there were only 8,000. No, it’s not perfect (30 to 50% unemployment!) but it’s improving.

    Re: no-fly zones — Even the U.S. military cannot afford to indefinitely maintain no-fly zones around every despot nation in the world. I think there’s a legitimate argument around whether, if we topple governments, we ought to rebuild as we did in Japan and Germany and are now attempting to do in Iraq, or leave countries to their own devices with the promise of future help or future reprisals depending on their choice of subsequent governments (thus avoiding long-term entanglements like we now have in Iraq). But a no-fly zone of indefinite duration is no more a solution in the Sudan than it was in Iraq.

    I stand by my original argument: one cannot advocate for military intervention in Darfur on the one hand, and withdrawal from Iraq on the other, without applying a double standard. On specific points I’ve been careful to argue from sources that I can link to; I’ve seen nothing comparable from anyone with opposing views. Indeed, so far I have seen nothing but empty, blanket assertions — and that’s the part I find nauseating.


  46. Chuck McKinnon says:

    And Steve Evans #10 — no need to invent anything; Sudan has proven oil reserves of 1.6 billion barrels. People have been arguing since 2004 that oil might serve as the “real” reason for an Anglosphere intervention. Within months, if not weeks, it would be “blood for oil” all over again.

  47. Well, Washington learned its lesson.

    Hah. Yes, Washington’s learned its lesson. Contemplate the chastened Dick Chaney! Observe the delicacy with which they deal with Iran! Give me a break.

    Sudan has proven oil reserves of 1.6 billion barrels.

    Which is why the UN is limited in its ability to respond. China is close to Sudan and is making oil deals all over Africa. China’s place on the security council creates problems for dealing with any oil state not already fully in bed with the USA (i.e. Saudi).

    CW #34: Well put.

  48. Chuck,
    I suppose I’m not even saying that it should be the US who maintains this no-fly zone. The great and noble EU could do something if it wanted. But it doesn’t either.

  49. Chuck, I am not sure what you are trying to say. Where is “there?” In Sudan or in Iraq?

  50. Chuck, not all war is created equal. I think the Vietnam war was a mistake but World War II was a great idea. There’s no double standard. I’m not an absolute pacifist; I just support military action only when there’s a clear rationale for (a) why it’s morally justified and (b) why military action will probably have a better outcome than military inaction. Regarding point (a), the Iraq adventure is debatable; regarding point (b) it really never was, and only politically-motivated pipe dreams ever made it seem otherwise.

    In Darfur and Chad, a limited international action — along the lines that Ronan and Hellmut have discussed — would likely save tens to hundreds of thousands of lives. It has been specifically requested by the victims in question. So it’s just a different war.

  51. Chuck McKinnon says:


    I’ve detailed at length why the moral claim of Iraqi civilians to international intervention was at least as strong as that of the Darfur refugees is now: number of lives affected, nature and kind of suffering, etc. I would welcome your or anyone else’s substantiated argument to the contrary, but please recognize that claiming “it’s just different” is only an opinion, not an argument.

    Your point (b) is so effortlessly made in hindsight, but on what basis do you believe Darfur would turn out any differently? More importantly, why do you believe that U.S. or European voters would have the fortitude to stay the course in Darfur if things didn’t turn out as planned? You, Ronan and Hellmut keep referring to an international coalition of forces as though oblivious to the evidence I’ve provided that not only the U.N. but the African Union have already ruled that out. They don’t want us there, notwithstanding the expressed wishes of some of their citizens to the contrary.

    That lack of U.N. authorization added to Sudan’s proven reserves of oil give the anti-war protesters all the cover they’ll need: this will be another “illegal war” that merely exchanges “blood for oil.”

    I agree with you that intervention in Darfur would be a good thing. I agree that coalition forces could save untold numbers of lives. But I’m unconvinced those lives merit the shedding of coalition blood any more than Iraqi lives, and more importantly I haven’t seen a shred of evidence that suggests it would be politically more feasible to intervene in Darfur than in Iraq, against the express wishes of the U.N. and 53 African governments.

    I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  52. In 2003, Saddam Hussein was not committing genocide. That’s the beginning and end of it, Chuck.

  53. And the justification of saving the Iraqis from Saddam was an after thoughthought — after the WMDs and the Al Qaeda link were clearly discredited.

  54. Ronan:

    With respect, I don’t think that’s the end of it. While you certainly have a point (and no one would argue that preventing genocide is not a good thing) it seems to me that Chuck’s concerns are also valid. There is a real danger of unintended consequences here. Specifically, if we become the world’s police force, intervening to prevent any tragedy, where will we draw the line? How much loss of life defines “genocide?” Aren’t you at all worried about the precedent we would set? Isn’t there any concern about the lack of time limit or scope of the mission? Isn’t it clear that as soon as we leave it will all go to hell again? Does that mean we have to commit troops to this unstable area (in which we have no real interest and many hostile neighbors) indefinitely? Aren’t you concerned about the people you send becoming targets for terrorists from other locations? Do you remember our “humanitarian” intervention in Somalia? Why am I (and Chuck) the only one asking these questions?

  55. Draw the line at bogus wars.

    As for being a police force. Again, I’m not saying this should be the US’s job. I think the EU should get its act together.

  56. OK, but that just raises how you define “bogus.”

    It doesn’t matter who the “we” in my comment refers to, (US, EU, UN, BYU) they still have to answer these same questions.

  57. “Bogus” = invented casus belli. “Not bogus” = clear and present threat of genocide hanging over hundreds of thousands of people.

  58. Gosh, that sounds so simple…

  59. It is.

  60. It seems that the problem is that the desire exists, but there’s not enough organization to really make an impact here.

    I was just thinking, what if we, as Christians, suddenly put the squeeze on the government to do something to end this? I honestly don’t know that much about the politics of war or anything, so I’m really just throwing these ideas out here. But what if all of the Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons in the United States of America — or even a quarter of them — really got behind the issue: attending rallies or writing letters? That would have a significant influence. And the idea of ending ruthless slaughter is truly something behind which all Christians can get.

    I think that the LDS church has great organization and could easily accomplish this sort of thing. Likewise, the Pope has a lot of influence to Catholics. I have no idea what sort of religious hierarchy exist for other sects of Christianity, but I imagine there is some sort of governing body. Christians make up a significant proportion of the population, and if we all voice our dissent with the current situation in Sudan, then those with the means to do something have got to listen. Has Pres. Hinckley made any statements regarding this tragedy? Is this the kind of thing someone could write to ask him about? Is this too far outside the prophet’s sphere of influence?

    A few more questions: What was the official church stance during WWII? What were the European saints encouraged to do? What about the American saints?

  61. Chuck, the number of lives at risk from the current situation in the Sudan is vastly greater than the number of lives that Saddam Hussein was taking in 2003. Earlier, Hussein had committed genocides of his own; I believe that the US and its allies have blood on our hands because we encouraged the Shiites to rise against Hussein during the earlier Bush’s Gulf War — and then sat back and observed as Hussein launched a vicious offensive against them. We should have prevented that, since we helped produce the uprising. But nothing of that kind was happening when we invaded in 2003.

    For a Sudan/Chad intervention, a proper definition of the mission would be essential. We don’t need to replace the government, defeat the insurgents, establish democracy, take over oil fields, or convert people to Jainism. We can limit ourselves to defending a set of safe havens. If we do so, we won’t raise the same issues that we’ve created in Iraq. Not all war is the same.

    On Iraq, by the way, I have talked loudly and publicly about how our lack of a plan was going to fail since 2002. Hindsight doesn’t enter into it. I was part of anti-war protests in 2002, 2003, 2004…

    KB, during WWII, the church adopted the stance that all people should support their governments. So German citizens were encouraged to submit themselves to Nazi rule. In fact, one great tragedy of the war is that a few people were even excommunicated for working against the Nazis.

    That history aside, I agree that religious mobilization in defense of the African victims of the genocide in Sudan and now Chad would be very effective. It will have to be massive, though. A few hundred or thousand voices would only be a drop in the bucket. It’s extremely difficult for voter pressures in the US to change foreign policy.

  62. Chuck, we are failing in Iraq because a population opposes us. As I pointed out above that will not happen in Darfur because the population of Darfur are suffering the genocide.

    Without popular support in the theater of war, the Sudanese forces will not be able to conduct a guerilla war against the intervention force.

    The problems of Iraq can only emerge when an intervention force moves into population center where the Sudanese government enjoys support.

    There are a variety of international organizations that we can use to authorize an intervention. The reason to seek international authorization is not legalistic but political. An international organization gives credibility to American humanitarian motives. In other words, international organizations are useful because we can discount accusations of imperialism.

    Besides, attitudes in the African Union and the UN would shift if the United States were committed to the suppression of the genocide. When it was impossible to use the UN Security Council to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Nato served the purpose. As long as it is not unilateralism, it does not really matter which international organization is used to bring in enough stake holders to assure success.

    MCQ, there is already precedence in the Balkans. While the situation is not satisfying it sure beats the conditions during the civil war. In the meanwhile, the first Balkan states have joined the European Union, a development that will continue to render ethnic conflict less relevant.

    The worst unintended consequence that one can reasonably predict is that an intervention force will have to stay in Darfur for decades. That’s nothing new. Peace keeping forces remain in the Sinai, Lebanon, and Cyprus for decades. It’s expensive but much less expensive than war and genocide.

    There is no possibility that Sudan will defeat a western force. Our technological superiority is too dominant. There is no possibility that there will be guerilla war like in Iraq. The Sudanese government lacks a loyal population in the province.

    There is no possibility that China will confront the United States militarily. It cannot project military power that far. It is also not in China’s interest to confront the United States economically on this issue. The only thing that matters to China is the continued flow of raw material from Sudan. As long we respect that, China’s opposition will remain symbolic.

    In my mind, I have asked your questions. It turns out that they are not essential. Hence I did not talk about them until you did.

  63. In my mind, I have asked your questions. It turns out that they are not essential.

    Imagine my relief.

  64. Hellmut,

    Intervention in Sudan is a nice idea.

    If we were still maintaining a no-fly zone over a Saddam-ruled Iraq, I’d be all for it. I’d consider it our moral duty.

    But reality bites.

    The US military is not capable of responsibly taking on another foreign military adventure today. It is disasterously overstretched. Another commitment is not a real option.

    It would certainly be nice if the EU would do something about it. But the EU cannot act without the support of Russia and, more importantly, China. For that, you would need robust American diplomatic leadership.

    Unfortunately, America finds that it currently has no diplomatic leadership to spend anywhere at the moment. Our credibility worldwide is at an all-time low. Putin in Russia is currently thumbing his nose at us and talking belligerently about the Cold War. China sees our lack of leadership as an opportunity to get a foothold on the African continent, and they are aggressively courting resource-rich nations there.

    If the US had been a wise steward of it’s diplomatic capital, we would have been challenging China for control of Africa and would have been in a much different position of leverage with respect to Darfur. Alas, we squandered it post September 11, with dumb cowboy games.

    So yes, intervention in Darfur is a nice idea. Even a fabulous idea.

    Too bad the only ones capable of doing anything about it are the Chinese. And we just don’t seem to have any real leverage with them anymore.

    But hey, why let silly ole reality get in the way of our dreams? Right?