Darfur: Harder Than It Seems

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There’s not exactly a groundswell for sending more troops overseas these days, but The New Republic’s editors are still trying to make the case for intervention in Darfur. The argument’s worth reading, although the idea that intervention would “only” take 20,000 NATO troops seems absurdly optimistic, reminiscent of prewar Pentagon estimates about how many troops would be needed to occupy Iraq—low-ball figures that TNR and other liberal hawks have criticized in hindsight. And then there’s this:

This is not Iraq: A few weeks ago, thousands of Darfuris demonstrated in a camp, chanting, “Welcome, welcome, USA. Welcome, welcome, international force.”

This, it seems, is TNR’s way of saying that Darfur would be a “cakewalk” and we’d be welcomed with “rose water and flowers.” As the links in that last sentence suggest, that’s exactly the same thing that was predicted about Iraq, before the war. And more to the point, a lot of Iraqis really did welcome American troops in the early days of the war, as Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near shows. But obviously all that “rose water” and goodwill quickly evaporated once things went to shit and people started dying. The same would almost certainly be true in Darfur.

That said, I think Eric Reeves has made a decent case that intervention in Darfur could well succeed and save a lot of lives. But any confidence that it would be simple seems preposterous. To take another “non-controversial” humanitarian intervention, the UN has been in the Balkans for a decade, the region is still extremely unstable, and there are no signs that they can leave anytime soon. So are we talking about a decade-long occupation in Sudan? Maybe. If there’s anything to be learned from history, it’s that intervening in Darfur would likely be far, far more difficult than anything currently being contemplated.

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