A U.S. role in Darfur

It’s been nearly five years since an outbreak of anti-Americanism greeted the election of George W. Bush. Since then, the Iraq war, prison abuse scandals and another, more decisive, Bush election have caused that outbreak to deteriorate into an all out international pandemic of hatred for all things American.

A recent survey indicates just how far we’ve fallen in the eyes of the world. In the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll, nearly 17,000 people from 16 nations ranked the U.S. dead last on a “favorability” index. In fact, in just 6 of 16 countries surveyed did the U.S. attract favorability ratings of 50 percent or higher. In contrast, Communist China topped fifty percent in 11 countries.

An exception to the extreme anti-America sentiment that dominates the Pew report are the results to a question asking people whom they trust to stop the killing “if an innocent people were being killed by the army, the police or another tribe, in another country.”

Given the chance to list any nation, 12 of the 16 countries surveyed – including Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Russia and India – saw the U.S. as the most dependable country (after their own) to act when innocents are being slaughtered.

The Pew poll uncovers a paradox in contemporary international relations. While often reviled for its unilateral foreign policy, when there is a difficult task to be done, it’s the United States that is relied upon to act.

And there is a particularly difficult job to do right now in Sudan.

The recent political history of Sudan is complex. Earlier this year, the Bush Administration helped negotiate a peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan, thus ending Africa’s longest civil war. However, the peace deal didn’t end the government-sponsored genocide in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where 400,000 innocent civilians have been killed and another 2.5 million raped, terrorized and driven from their homes.

The international response to the savagery has been inadequate, and, as usual, the United Nations has failed to apply appropriate pressure to the regime. What’s more, since Sudan is seen as a key ally in the war on terror, the Bush Administration has been reluctant to rebuke the government, and it even helped derail the Darfur Accountability Act in Congress, which would have stepped up pressure on the regime to cease the killing.

At the moment there are only five thousand African Union troops on the ground in Darfur – simply not enough to begin to secure peace. An additional 12,000 will be ready sometime next year. Meanwhile, according to the U.N., 10,000 lives are lost each month as we wait. The United States is in a unique position to compel the United Nations to dispatch enough NATO troops to assist in peace keeping until those troops are prepared, something former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark has been pushing.

Numerous polls show a majority of Americans and Africans support increased U.S. involvement in Darfur. And it couldn’t hurt an administration beset by all-time low approval ratings to be seen assisting ethnic Africans suffering the savagery of ethnic cleansing. But, just as The United States didn’t decide to enter Iraq based on opinion polls or international favorability surveys, these should not be the primary reasons for U.S. intervention now.

The reason the United States must act to stop the genocide is because, as Martin Luther King said, “Man’s inhumanity to man is not only perpetuated by the vitriolic action of those who are bad, it is also perpetuated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good.”

The United States is thus far the only nation to use the word “genocide” to describe the acts of mass extermination taking place in Darfur. This declaration, made by President Bush over one year ago, brings with it the responsibility to respond, not only because inaction perpetuates “man’s inhumanity to man,” but also because it undermines the moral tenets, and thus the moral credibility, of current U.S. foreign policy whose central principle is the enhancement of the natural and inalienable rights of all men. Continued inaction in Darfur can thus be seen as imperiling every other foreign mission the United States undertakes.

While the U.S. nobly attempts to spread liberty to all corners of the world, it is vital that it does not forget about the one corner where millions are suffering the reality of the most ignoble affront to human dignity.

Daniel Allott is a policy analyst for American Values, a Washington D.C.-area public policy organization.

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