“We are NOT the policeman of the world!” The majority of Americans—right and left—want our government to focus on problems at home. And, to be sure, there are plenty of problems, such as increasing access to health care and affordable housing, improving education and reducing poverty. “Take care of our own and stop interfering in the affairs of other nations.” This desire to focus on domestic issues has picked up steam due to the failed Iraq policy, but is isolationism the best approach?
Rwanda. In this African nation two rival ethnic groups—Hutus and Tutsis—competed for power. After nearly two centuries of hatred based on wealth and racism, civil war broke out in 1993. The world ignored the warnings from General Dallaire, the United Nations commander from Canada, that tribal rivalry was about to boil over. The small UN peacekeeping force proved completely inadequate to stop the tidal wave of slaughter, which swept away hundreds of thousands of children, women and men in only 100 days during the summer of 1994.
It is easy to blame the United Nations, but this is far too simplistic. Some Americans see the United Nations as some version of “the one world government” trying to control all humanity. The reality is that the United Nations is a voluntary organization and can act only with the consent and support of member nations. Most often, action is blocked for political and/or economic reasons by one or more of the permanent members of the Security Council. When hundreds of thousands of lives were on the line, the United Nations was incapable of action.
But, the Rwandan genocide was also a result of individual nations refusing to act. President Clinton desired to avoid another disaster like Mogadishu, Somalia, and refused to send American troops to the region. He later described American inaction as “the biggest regret of [his] administration.”
History is repeating itself in Darfur, a region in western Sudan. Unlike the civil war that ended in 2003, where Muslims fought Christians, this conflict involves Muslims from rival ethnic groups. The fighting began as black Africans (the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes) demanded an end to oppression and economic marginalization at the hands of the Arabs (the Abbala tribes). In response to rebel attacks on army garrisons, the Arab-controlled Sudanese government and the janjaweed (Arab militias) attacked black African villages throughout the region. As Darfur’s inter-ethnic society has been torn asunder, attacks have given way to full-fledged genocide with 250,000 black Sudanese killed and 2 million more forced to flee.
Until now, the Sudanese government has allowed only a small, inadequate African Union (AU) force to try to stop the killing. More is needed. Recently, under pressure from China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil and sells it weapons and military aircraft, the Sudanese government agreed to allow 3,000 UN peacekeepers with attack helicopters into the region. The UN hopes to negotiate a larger force while these additional troops are deployed. This could be an important step, but it will take months to mobilize this force and there is no guarantee the Sudanese government will fulfill its commitments.
American inaction was partly responsible for the Rwandan genocide because Rwanda was not integral to our national interests. Over the past 60 years, we have intervened in many nations for less noble reasons than saving hundreds of thousands of children, women and men. President Bush said we must “continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur.” This is not enough. We must tell our government to work with the Chinese and others to put a UN force into Darfur now!
If this fails or is too slow, we need to marshal other nations—both friends and foes—to form a multinational peacekeeping force. If others refuse to act, then we need to act unilaterally and send in a large peacekeeping force to get in the way and stop this genocide. Some will see this as outside our national interests. Others will see such action as imperialistic. Instead, this is an opportunity for our nation to use its power and wealth to end the slaughter.
Should our national interests or political correctness supersede the interests of humanity? Are the lives of black Africans worth less than others? Will the Bush Administration do the right thing?
Scott Key is a faculty member at Fresno Pacific University. He teaches in the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences as well as the School of Education.