Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Thursday, May 11, 2006
An interesting debate about Darfur between The New Republic (eight articles in the latest issue, including this editorial), Matt Yglesias, and Jane Galt. Here's my own take:

The New Republic is wrong that you can drop prudential considerations when genocide rears its head. A society can never drop prudential considerations. Individuals can, but societies cannot, because they are responsible for more than themselves and more than the present.

Jane Galt is somewhat wrong that all that matters is the death toll, not the ethnic dimension to conflict. I'm not 100% sure why she's wrong, but I think the reason has to do with, on the one hand, deterrability and, on the other hand, the follow-on consequences in the case of genocidal conflict. If we say that the physical extermination of an enemy people is a war aim, then it is hard to see how a regime with such aims can ever be brought back into a state of peaceful coexistence. A regime that pursues legitimate aims with illegitimate means might be able to be deterred into avoiding said means or rehabilitated after defeat. A regime that pursues fundamentally evil ends can only be eliminated itself. Genocide is the paradigm of an evil, illegitimate end. I say Galt is somewhat wrong because, really, it's not clear how many cases there are of this kind of evil; the Nazis fit the bill, and so do the Rwandan genocidaires, but I doubt the Turkish perpetrators of the Armenian genocide do, or the Serbian perpetrators of the Bosnian genocide. So either we need to define genocide sufficiently narrowly that I'm not clear it makes much of an impact on policy, or Galt turns out to be more right than wrong and we have to question why ethnic warfare (which is what a broader definition of genocide would amount to) as such is so much worse than other kinds of war against civilians.

On the other hand, Galt has a good point in that the African continent has suffered numerous and horrible human tragedies with greater death tolls than the ongoing massacres in Darfur. No one has seriously proposed an international intervention to pacify the Democratic Republic of Congo's territory, where over three million people are estimated to have been killed, to which we must add mass rapes, mutilations and enslavements, a scene of horror substantially worse than the quite-bad-enough situation in Darfur. If we are not to do anything substantial about the DRC, why are we to obliged to do so in Darfur? The reason must be something other than the moral requirement to end horrible evil.

In any event, if we define genocide narrowly in this way, the situation in Sudan most assuredly does not qualify, as Yglesias indeed argues it does not. That war is an ethnic war on civilians aimed at altering the ethnic composition of Darfur. If it is genocide, then assuredly so is the Russian war in Chechnya, to pick one example. I don't recall TNR demanding war with Russia. If they do not, then the reason must be prudential. I consider my first point to have been proven.

And even if we define genocide broadly, and agree there is a categorical imperative to end it, we are left with how to marry means to ends. My mother and numerous friends of mine went to Washington to protest the situation in Darfur and demand action. I asked every person I've met who went there what precisely did they want done. I have yet to get a single answer. TNR thinks that's because liberals are so down on America and the use of force that they can't ask for military action. I think it's because no one - certainly not TNR - has offered the American people a complete spec of what "muscular Wilsonianism" or whatever we're calling it these days would require in terms of force structure.

Actually, I'd like to see that. I'd like to see a rundown of what it would cost - in men and dollars - to implement a foreign policy vision consistent with an a priori commitment to military action in Darfur. I'd like to see best, middle and worst case scenarios - best case, a few shows of force make all the bad guys quake and we get peace and prosperity on the cheap; mid case, we get no deterrent effect and, as in Bosnia and Kossovo, we never get to leave, but there are negligible casualties; worst case we get multiple Iraq-type messes in places from Burma to Zimbabwe. Actually, that's not the absolute worst case, but even taking that for the worst case would be instructive. What would America's force structure and defense budget have to look like to support that kind of foreign policy? I'm not an expert, but there are people out there who could spec it out, and I'd like to know.

I'm pretty sure the reason the world is focused on Darfur and not the DRC is that in Darfur an Islamist government is beating up on African Muslims. So making a big deal about Darfur means defending black(er) people from lighter-skinned people, and, more important, means taking on an Islamist regime while still defending Muslims. And the relation to American national interests is oblique. In somebody's mind, that makes it the perfect war: a largely altruistic effort with just the right enemies to defend just the right victims. I don't think those kinds of PR considerations should be predominant when we're talking about war.

I should stress that if we can figure out ways to put the screws on Sudan in a way that makes sense, I'm all for it. I'm skeptical that we can actually get the Chinese to be helpful and, short of that, I'm skeptical we can do much short of taking military action. But I'm certainly open to that idea. I have nothing against human rights having an important role in foreign policy. I may have something against the categorical imperative, though.