What About Darfur?

Whenever I speak on campus, I always get the “But what about Darfur?” question. This usually comes in tandem with the inevitable Holocaust question, which goes something like this: “Yes, I agree with your opposition to the Iraq war, and your anti-interventionist sentiments in general, but what about our moral responsibility to prevent another Holocaust?” This is usually accompanied by a paean to “the good war,” i.e., World War II, and the assertion that “of course” we had to intervene (and not just because of Pearl Harbor).

I will spare the reader my detailed answer to enthusiasts of “the good war,” except to say that if we hadn’t intervened in World War II at precisely the moment Hitler turned on Stalin, the likelihood of the two totalitarian monsters destroying each other is a bit more than mere speculation. I will also note that the Holocaust, far from being prevented by World War II, was instead hastened and accelerated by the conflict. American intervention in the European war had nothing to do with the Holocaust, did nothing to prevent it, and may have worsened it.

In any case, to get back to the case of Darfur: my questioner, I should point out, is usually not some warmongering neocon, but the most well-meaning of all lefties, who is savagely critical of the neoconservative agenda of “democratizing” the Middle East at gunpoint, but, when it comes to Darfur, all discernment, all the lessons of the past, are thrown out the window, and emotions take over. It is like an alcoholic, who, after a long abstinence, quaffs a bit of wine, or has half a beer: after just a little sip, all caution is abandoned, and they find him the next day, passed out in the street.

Darfur, where as many as 300,000 may have been killed, has become an international cause célèbre and rallying cry for the internationalist liberals, the kind who pride themselves on having a conscience and who constantly invoke the tragedy of Darfur as a potential model for “humanitarian intervention.” They think that they are different from the neocons in kind because they advocate intervention for a “good” cause, because they are motivated by kindness, benevolence, and all those other liberal internationalist virtues that make them such so much better people than Richard Perle and Bill Kristol.

This shows that whatever foreign policy debate occurs in this country is not about the policy – almost no one questions the wisdom and absolute necessity of global interventionism – but about motivation: President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condi Rice care about oil, money, Israel, and self-glorification, not necessarily in that order. We care about helping poor blacks, stopping genocide, and dispensing American treasure to the underprivileged albeit deserving peoples of the Third World.

To get a little perspective on this, let’s look at what the invaluable John Laughland, a writer and longtime observer of the War Party, has to say:

“The Darfur crisis is following a pattern which is so well-worn now that it has almost become routine. Saturation reporting from a crisis region; emergency calls for help broadcast on the electronic media (such as the one recently on the BBC Radio 4 flagship ‘Today’ programme); televised pictures of refugees; lurid stories of ‘mass rapes’, which are surely designed to titillate as much to provoke outrage; reproachful evocations of the Rwandan genocide; demands that something must be done (‘How can we stand idly by?’, etc.); editorials in the Daily Telegraph calling for a return to the days of Rudyard Kipling’s benevolent imperialism; and, finally, the announcement that plans are indeed being drawn up for an intervention.”

Writing in 2004, Laughland averred that Western intervention is “inevitable,” and it looks like he was right on the money. The Washington Post carried a story, prominently featured in the Sunday edition, about the “growing outcry” to “do something” about Sudan:

“Massive ‘Stop Genocide’ rallies are planned on the Mall and across the nation today to urge the Bush administration to take stronger action to end the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region. Thousands of people are expected to converge on Washington, including 240 busloads of activists from 41 states, local and national politicians and such celebrity speakers as actor George Clooney, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, and Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek.”

While early reports of plans for the demonstration reported an expected turnout of 100,000-plus, the rally permit obtained by the “Save Darfur Coalition” estimated 10,000-15,000, and the actual numbers were far less. Reuters generously reported “several thousands,” but, never mind that: the sparse numbers were magnified by the star power of the celebrity speakers. Piggybacking on titans of Hollywood and the world of sports like Clooney and Cheek, Democratic party bigwigs – including Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California – sought to extract political benefits from this supposedly spontaneous upsurge of interventionist sentiment.

That, only a few days before, Osama bin Laden had made Sudan the focus of another of his tirades against the West – warning the Muslim world that Darfur would be the next entry point for the “Crusader-Zionists” – was surely a coincidence, albeit an enormously convenient one for the motley collection of liberal do-gooders, Hollywood glamour-pusses, and Christian zealots who make up the “Save Darfur Coalition.” President Bush was glad to endorse the rally: “For those of you who are going out to march for justice, you represent the best of our country,” Bush said at a meeting with persons described as “Darfur advocates” in news reports.

Before we send tens of thousands more American troops into a very troubled region of the world, let us examine what these “Darfur advocates” are advocating. Both Tony Blair and retired U.S. general Wesley Clark have argued in favor of intervention, raising the “successful” war and occupation in Kosovo as a model. That was one war we didn’t hear much about from the great mass of present-day “antiwar” protesters, who apparently thought that attacking a country that represented no threat to the U.S. and had never attacked us was okay, so long as it was done by a Democratic president. By going into Darfur under the rubric of “humanitarianism,” the War Party can sell to anti-Bush liberals the idea of opening up another front in the Muslim world.

The Dubai brouhaha showed how easily anti-Arab sentiment can be exploited on the ostensible “Left” and utilized by the War Party to demonstrate their effective control of both major political parties – and distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular administration. The Darfur campaign is another example of their strategic shift: in both instances, instead of following President Bush’s lead, they stood in opposition to the White House. Up until this point, the Bush team has been skeptical of getting involved in Sudan. As the Bush White House drags its feet in provoking the Iranians into war, the War Party is turning increasingly to the Democrats – and the ostensible liberal-Left – for support. This is beginning to pay off, as Hillary Clinton tries to out-hawk the GOP on the Iranian nukes issue, and leading Democrats take up the banner of Darfur.

From a realistic point of view, there is nothing U.S. military intervention can accomplish in Sudan except to make things far worse. Sudan would soon become Iraq II, with an influx of jihadists and a nationalistic reaction against what would become, after a short time, a de facto occupation very similar to what the Iraqis have to endure. The rebel groups, aided by Sudan’s neighbors, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, would metastasize, more weapons would pour into the region, and the probable result would be a humanitarian disaster on a much larger scale. Intervention, in short, would lead to the exact opposite of its intended result – a principle that, as a libertarian, I hold is true in economics as well as foreign policy.

But you don’t have to be a libertarian to see the folly of interventionism in the case of Darfur, or Iraq. In the latter, it is the presence of the U.S. occupation force that empowers the rising anti-U.S. insurgency: the same principle would operate in Sudan. There is no reason to believe that we would be welcomed with open arms by the Sudanese any more than we were by the Iraqis. An initial euphoria – some of it staged – would soon be supplanted by a growing resentment, and the influx of jihadists would destabilize the entire region, requiring increased U.S. and “allied” forces.

“Saving” Darfur would mean opening up another theater in what the neocons refer to as “World War IV.” Spreading outward from Iraq, this global conflict will pit the U.S. against a wide variety of enemies, both freelance and state-sponsored, swelling the ranks of terrorist outfits and inviting further attacks on U.S. soil. This could be construed as a “humanitarian” intervention only in the Bizarro World inhabited by our leaders, including those hailing from the entertainment industry.

A coalition of liberal internationalists, opportunistic politicians of both parties, and the usual neocon suspects have banded together to lure us into yet another quagmire, this one in Africa. This new crusade is so imbued with the aura of humanitarian uplift that anyone who questions the wisdom of intervening in a complicated and obscure civil war will be denounced as a “racist” who doesn’t give a hoot about Africa.

Oh, so you’re against intervening in Darfur, eh? Don’t you care about starving African babies? That our intervention will likely as not lead to more starving African babies, rather than less, is in my opinion indubitably true, yet even if it were not, intervention would still be a mistake. It would be a grave error because there is no lack of “humanitarian disasters” in this world, and the alleviation of all of them cannot be the goal of U.S. foreign policy. That would have to mean perpetual warfare, on a global scale, waged by the U.S. against countless legions of enemies, including many yet to be born.

It is a recipe for endless trouble, increasing expenditures, and eventual bankruptcy, moral as well as financial. Because, in the end, we’ll discover that the whole thing was cooked up by disparate interests with hidden agendas, in order to profit financially or politically. The truth will come out: it always does.

We cannot help Africa, except by trading with it and increasing our humanitarian private efforts to alleviate suffering. The least we can do, however, is to stop encouraging the worst, most illiberal elements by subsidizing governments like those of Ethiopia and Eritrea, run by common thugs paid to do America’s bidding. If we really want to help Africa, we’ll stay out of their internal political affairs, start granting more visas from that continent, and get over our own sense of moral superiority that lets us imagine we can somehow uplift the entire world to the level of a typical American suburb.

Finally, if this doesn’t underscore the unselfconscious irrationality of the “left”-wing do-gooder-Hollywood wing of the War Party, then nothing does.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].