Saturday, September 11, 2004

On and on and on in Darfur... 

In all sorts of ways the US has a history rife with forgettable, deeply flawed, just wrong episodes in the grand march for social justice in Central and South American, Africa and Asia. Of course we're not alone here, if the goal was to work for social justice virtually all large and powerful countries have screwed up time and time again through history.

None of which really matters for our foreign policy now. To me it seems like it is this sensibility (the same one which requires the "past performance is no predictor of future sucess" you often hear at the end of financial services commercials) which lead many progressive thinkers to oppose the invasion of Iraq, twice. I remember the protests of the hard line anti-war left as pointing out that while we know Sadam Hussein is a bad guy invading the country and forcibly deposing him won't necessarily make things better. Put another way, it may be right to depose Sadam, but the question isn't what's right, the question is what's the best way to bring freedom where it didn't exist before, of creating a civil society with freely elected representatives where before none existed. If this is true the ethical obligation of our foreign policy isn't so much to do the right thing (as it is typically described in most neocon circles) the obligation is to do the thing which improves bad situations, which helps people the world over be better off than before.

In the 8/30/04 issue of the New Yorker Samantha Power published a long piece on the background and much of the current issues in the struggle in Darfur. Some of the things she's described, the ethnic cleansing, the enforced povery and food confiscation performed toward the Darfurians by the janjaweed have trickled out in other places. Seeing it all together - well seeing it all together forced me to try to think about larger solutions, and the results weren't pretty.

How do you convince stop one ethnic group from killing another? How do you allocate finite unworked land fairly? How to you apportion resources for an expanding population in a way that is so essentially equal that it allows all groups to feel a stake in the system? How do you encourage in people a sense of responsibility to the largest possible group which overwhelms allegiances to local familes or tribes? I don't know the answers to these questions in Darfur (heck I don't even know how to get students to assume responsibility for their own work when I teach). But that doen't mean it's not important. In fact, until those questions can be answered the drone just keeps going on and on in the background. It's not particularly encouraging or hopeful, but it's the drone of the right question to ask and the question that all our consciences should pose until it's fixed. How do we stop it and make it better?

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