Thursday, January 24, 2008

Save Darfur

I just watched a program on the National Geographic channel called "Science of Evil". It was a good and thought-provoking program. A portion of it dealt with the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo and the horrifying inhumanity involved therein.

It reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw last year in an odd but predictable place, stuck to a steering wheel welded to a bike rack on a pedestrian-only road in Boulder Colorado. It read "Save Darfur".

At the time I marveled at the glaring ignorant self-righteousness of it. I never cease to be stunned by the level of vanity required to purchase and display such a token of vapid sentiment. There seems to be a never-ending supply of (mostly young) ignorant people who think the world's problems can be solved by simply caring about them. If only the world's attention were focused on African genocide we would intercede with "peacekeepers" and stop the conflict.

Unfortunately the problem is much deeper and more complex than can be expressed on a 3" x 9" sticker. If we were to truly attempt to stop the genocide in Africa it would require massive numbers of U.S. (who else in the world has any to contribute?) troops on the ground killing people and controlling territory. Warlords will not stop their quest for power and control unless they are stopped by force. That means war. Countless do-gooders have negotiated, bartered, brokered, held concerts and rallies, shipped food and medical supplies, written heart-wrenching tales, and donned blue helmets. But limbs are still being hacked off by the hundreds of thousands. Rape, murder, and starvation are still as common as the sunrise.

What is needed in Africa is what is needed across the globe by oppressed people wherever they toil. First they need law, principally property rights. Every man and woman on this planet is first owner of him or herself. This is the freedom for each of us to reap the fruits of our labor. Second they need accountability. This means equal enforcement of the law. Accountability cannot exist without law except at the whim of the dictator or strongman who is by definition, above the law, which is a contradiction in terms. Once these two principles are in place, the path to civil society is much clearer. Without them it is impossible.

So how is it possible for Africa to adopt the rule of law and hold all its people to it? Clearly it isn't going so swimmingly now. One can argue that past imperialism and exploitation, then abandonment by western powers have left Africa the basket-case that it is today. That argument is not without merit and equally applies to the middle east and south America as well. But regardless of the merits of that line of thinking, it isn't helpful. It is similar to the left's argument that the war in Iraq was waged on false pretenses due to the "flawed intelligence" that led us there. This is what in the business world is referred to as a "sunk cost". Since you cannot go back in time and undo the past, those arguments are irrelevant as to how to proceed from here.

Again, how can Africa adopt the rule of law? Will the African people rise up and demand it; put the institutions of law in place and re-create their governments in a fashion that will lead to peace and prosperity? There is scant evidence of such a movement. In a land where starvation of the population is a political tactic of control, it is highly unlikely that a Thomas Jefferson will emerge.

The only method capable of stopping a thug is force. Force is war. War is precisely what the smug granola-eater in Boulder deplores. So his argument to "Save Darfur" is one to commit U.S. troops to war there. I won't argue that it would be wrong for us to do so. But I think we should all be clear about what it is we advocate.

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