The Morality of Intervention

The Iraq War blurred the line between humanitarian intervention and moral crusade


| August 5, 2004


A civil war between government troops and ethnic minority rebels rages in Darfur, Sudan, that has claimed 50,000 lives already and put millions of others at risk as they get caught in the cross-fire. But much-needed military and humanitarian intervention is unlikely to come anytime soon from the United States. Thanks to the debacle of Iraq, the distrust of the United States that the invasion has created, and the American people's increasing frustration and alienation from Bush's wartime policies, any action taken to prevent genocide would be a political foible of the worst kind. It seems the well of US compassion, if one could ever have called a mixture of paranoia, cowboy machismo, and tepid concern just that, has run dry. And with it any potential for intervention in the Sudanese crisis.

How can two very different crises come to look the same? Iraq was a moral crusade pitched in a combined rhetoric of humanitarian intervention and self defense. The line between the two became blurred, became headed under the broad category of 'Do the right thing.' But now, what was never a simplistic question of 'doing the right thing' to begin with, shows itself in all its complexity and the Bush White House cannot afford to take anymore leaps in the name of ethics.

And the world is not prepared to take leaps for Bush. Deteriorating relations between the United States and many countries complicates the question of intervention and 'just war.' While Britain and Australia have both expressed readiness to commit troops to Sudan, it is almost impossible for Muslim nations in the Security Council such as Algeria and Pakistan to agree to U.S.-led action against an Arab League member like Sudan. The Arab world's tolerance for the atrocities committed by their rulers is indeed a cause for despair. But the occupation of Iraq, including the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the U.S.'s total support for Ariel Sharon, and the xenophobic anti-Muslim and anti-Arab outbursts in the United States, make that stone harder to cast. And even if they were to accept the need for intervention of some kind in Sudan, why would they entrust George Bush with such a task?
-- Elizabeth Dwoskin

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