Obama, not likely to stop genocide

The Museum started a sort of book club — which is really more of a topic-based discussion group — and during our first meeting (last night) I made a comment that I don’t think went over well. The subject of this first meeting was Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell, and in a broader sense the United State’s lack of involvement in cases of genocide.

During this discussion, I commented that I suspect that very little is actually going to be done by the Obama administration to curtail the ongoing genocide in Darfur. The reason for me saying this is actually enumerated in Power’s conclusion:

Obama is certainly coming into the job with a tremendous amount of knowledge about the current situation. Even if he weren’t receiving an intelligence analysis, it would be hard to overlook the various national activist groups that have organized around stopping this particular genocide. Nonetheless, for reasons I’ll discuss a few points down, I suspect this administration will wind up hiding “in the fog of plausible deniability.”

As Power points out, perpetrators are often keeping their eyes on Western reactions in order to gauge if they should take the next step. Having seen little reaction from Washington over the last five years, it’s unlikely that Sudan is going to suddenly reverse course because of a new administration. If the United States decides to do anything less than overt (which I think is highly doubtful) Khartoum is going to continue unfettered.

This is, without question, the real problem. Regardless of whether Obama’s administration has the “moral will” to act, his policy makers are going to have an incredibly tough time convincing Congress to commit to ending this, or any other, genocide. Even if they could, the real crux of a solution in Darfur lies with China.

Basically, no force, sanction, or relief is going to be successful without the backing or cooperation of China and, unfortunately, the United States has little leverage to apply in order to make this happen. Not only has China rebuked any attempt through the United Nations, but their continued oil interests in the region makes force and sanctions utterly untenable from a diplomatic and economic standpoint (to say nothing of the physical).

This last point is probably not even worth mentioning. No sitting President has been held politically accountable for inaction and considering the economic and domestic problems, it certainly won’t be starting with this administration.

Truly, this is one of those times when I’ll happily be wrong. I hope that Obama does intervene in Darfur; and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t voted for him with the hope that he would reverse our position on stopping genocide. But at the same time, I approach this from the long lens of a genocide researcher, and it’s from that vantage point that I suspect no real impact will come from a new administration.

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