Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Two Crises, Two Failures

Steven Meyer


August 9, 2004

In the spring of 1999, flush with "victory" in the war with Serbia, President Clinton announced the Clinton Doctrine: never again would a people suffer from ethnic cleansing if the U.S. could do something about it. From now on, no national leader could hide behind sovereignty while slaughtering innocent people. The U.S. would intervene forcefully, if it could do so without sustaining heavy casualties, to end such wanton loss of human life. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan quickly added his support.

In the 2000 presidential election campaign, candidate Bush argued that the U.S. should not be the world's policeman by intervening in places that did not directly affect the vital interests of the U.S. We would return, he indicated, to great power politics—concentrating on our interests in China, Russia, Europe, and the greater Middle East. In effect, the Clinton Doctrine and its moralism would be replaced by more conservative-realist principals.

Ironically, as the Bush administration's reasons for invading Iraq last year have melted away one by one, it has been reduced essentially to justifying its action by adopting the basic rationale of the discarded Clinton Doctrine. Since the administration has found no weapons of mass destruction and no credible link to Al Qaeda—the primary reasons for going to war—it has focused almost exclusively on a humanitarian justification. As the argument goes, we have freed the Iraqi people from a sadistic dictator who murdered thousands of his own people.

Apparently, the Clinton Doctrine of humanitarian intervention is now not only acceptable but a central focus of the post 9/11 foreign policy of the Bush administration. The administration has seemingly adopted full-blown neo-Wilsonian moralism. But, just as quickly as the administration has recast its foreign policy moorings, its humanitarian credentials, like its earlier conservative-realist ones, have crashed ignominiously—this time in the sands and heat of western Sudan rather than in the sands and heat of Iraq.

A humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions is well under way in the Darfur region of Sudan. Arab militias, the Janjaweed, have been mercilessly attacking and exterminating as many of the black residents of Darfur as they can—all with the help and connivance of the government in Khartoum. Not only are scores of people dying from the militia attacks, they also are dying from hunger, thirst, and disease. Refugees, sweltering in triple-digit heat, are cramped into unsanitary camps, many just waiting, and some hoping, to die. The militias have destroyed wells, farms, and whole villages in their quest to purge black people from the Darfur region.

The U.N. says that more than two million people are in need of food aid and our own Agency for International Development estimated last month that 300,000 to one million people could die. Sadly, as long as this crisis persists, these numbers will only grow. The specter of American and European inaction in the Rwanda massacres of a decade ago haunts the Darfur tragedy.

Early in July, Secretary of State Powell and Annan toured the refugee camps in Darfur and in "condemning" the situation called on the Khartoum government to protect the people there. The British offered to send 5,000 troops (which the Sudanese government refused) and the U.S. has sent some food aid. At the end of July the U.N. Security Council passed a weak resolution, demanding that Khartoum act to protect the people of Darfur. But there has been little sense of urgency in the West to relieve this desperate situation, something that could be done rather easily if we had the political will to do so. But there is no leadership from Washington; the administration has no policy.

—Steven E. Meyer, Professor of Political Science
    National Defense University
    (The views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the official policy or position of the
    National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.)


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”