Genocide Or Not?


Er, I don’t quite get Matt Yglesias’ argument about Darfur in the American Prospect. He argues that what’s going on in Sudan isn’t an “unambiguous” genocide—which would mean, according to him, an “ethnic genocide.” Instead, what’s going on is “counter-guerilla mass slaughter,” which supposedly makes intervention more difficult:

[I]t remains the case that the leaders in Khartoum didn’t wake up one morning and just decide to exterminate Darfur’s inhabitants. The mass killing was adopted as a strategy in the midst of a war, and at the intersection of counter-guerilla mass killing and ethnic warfare lies the ambiguous genocide.

Does it matter? On one level, no. War crimes are war crimes, brutality is brutality, slaughter is slaughter, and we all have a duty to reduce its incidence. But once ambiguity re-enters the picture, so should common sense. Faced with counter-guerilla mass slaughter, you can’t just stop the killing, any intervention necessarily entails taking a side on the basic question of the war. Advocates of intervening have a duty to explain what it is they intend to do — create an independent Darfur? Controlled by whom? They also have a duty to answer, rather than simply dismiss, questions about the big picture of American foreign policy. How would attacking another Arab country affect America’s larger security concerns? Would circumventing the UN merely provoke protests from China and like-minded human rights averse dictators, or will developing world democracies like India, South Africa, and Brazil see it as imperialism run amok?

Okay, all fair questions, but we’d have to think about all of this regardless of what “type” of mass killing was going on. Even if Darfur was facing an “unambiguous” genocide, whatever that means, it’s not like stopping that would somehow be a simpler matter than stopping “counter-guerilla mass slaughter.”

In both cases, we’d have to think about what comes after intervention, what sort of settlement would resolve the conflict, how to enforce the peace, and what the effects of intervening would be. Now perhaps the answers would be different, depending on what was motivating the conflict—mass slaughter fuelled by “pure” ethnic hatred, for instance, might even be harder to resolve than, say, mass slaughter fuelled by a political conflict—but you still ask the same questions. Both situations require “common sense.” So unless we’re suggesting that the wholesale killing of Darfuris is somehow semi-justifiable because it’s part of a counterinsurgency campaign—and no one seems to be saying that—then this seems like a lot of meaningless hair-splitting.

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