But first, to what Kristof says:
Elie Wiesel once said, referring to victims of genocide: "Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander." And it's our own silence that I find inexplicable.
In Darfur, we have even less excuse than in past genocides. We have known about this for more than two years, we have photos and eyewitnesses, our president has even described it as genocide, and yet we're still paralyzed. Part of the problem is that President Bush hasn't made it a top priority, but at least he is now showing signs of stirring — and in fact he's done more than most other world leaders, and more than many Democrats. Our failure in Darfur is utterly bipartisan.
What is important to note here is that Kristof, while portraying the appalling violence and murder going on in Darfur, has had difficulty in calling for other than diplomatic intervention. He has not called for US troops to intervene. The closest he has come to asking for clear military intervention is his suggestion that the US unilaterally "enforce a no-fly zone" for Chad.
One measure we could take would be to enforce a no-fly zone from the air base in Abéché, Chad. The president of Chad says he would be happy to have Americans do this, and it would be easy: instead of keeping airplanes in the air, we would simply wait until a Sudanese plane bombed a village, then strafe that plane on the ground afterward. (The first time, we would just damage the plane; we would destroy any after that.)
Kristof is caught in the wave of isolationism that is dominating US politics. He can barely bring himself to ask for concrete US intervention.
His plan is that we base our planes in Chad. That "would be easy" and the Chadian president is supposedly happy to have this happen. We wait until more people have been killed before acting. and then we merely damage the plane. Only after its second murderous run would we destroy it. No effort would apparently be made to stop it and its pilot from actually killing villagers. It's as though the plane were to be taught a lesson, and only after it refused to learn that lesson would it be destroyed.
What about the militia forces on the ground who murder, pillage and rape? It is not easy to deal with them in the antiseptic appearing plan to only punish equipment. Or what if the Sudanese merely station troops around the plane? Then you would have to kill real people--not just destroy equipment.
Kristof and those practical isolationists who berate President Bush for intervening militarily in Iraq and deposing a dictator responsible for torture, mass murder and purposeful destruction of Kurdish villages have a difficult time making a case for any real intervention in Darfur. We know how successful diplomacy, sanctions and a no-fly zone were to stopping Saddam's atrocities. We also know how hard it was for the UN to act on its resolutions--other than its officials being on the take in the Oil-for-food program. Why should we expect a better result in Darfur?
The closest Kristof can get to suggesting a plan which might slow down the violence and killing in Darfur is to support a "well-equipped U.N. peacekeeping force" and more diplomacy.
Darfur is not hopeless. We need a new peace initiative, focused on the sheiks of the region. We need a well-equipped U.N. peacekeeping force and a no-fly zone. We need a public pledge by France to use its military forces in Chad to stop any invasion from Sudan. And we need Arab leaders to speak up for the Muslim victims of Darfur: where are you, Hosni Mubarak? With those measures, Darfur might again be a place where children play, rather than one in which they are thrown into bonfires.
With the difficulty in getting the U.N. to act on Iraq, and so far to act on Darfur, the chances of an effective U.N. peacekeeping force being formed and activated don't look great.
Besides the prospect of the peacekeeping force and the no-fly zone, there is only talk--the same sort of talk that has done nothing for the last two years. And that has not stopped 50,000+ people from being killed and more than a million refugees.
What is sad here is that Kristof can barely bring himself to call for the use of force to stop the Janjaweed Arab militias (supported by the Sudanese government) from mass killing, looting and raping the non-Arab, black African population in the area. He has a heart to stop the violence, but not a head to figure out how.
That is due to the increasing isolationism of the Left in the U.S. Their continuing uproar has paralyzed the Democratic Party, the press, and is making major inroads on Republicans. When it's difficult to figure out why the U.S. should turn to military action when WMD's and terrorism are possible targets, what are the chances that there would be massive public and political support for any president who committed U.S. forces to merely help victims thousands of miles away--except with "easy", antiseptic solutions?
Kristof points to polls which show that Americans support more intervention. They did on Iraq too. But if there are no "easy" solutions that make political leaders in Sudan and Chad "happy", what will happen then? How likely are the solutions to be easy or make people happy when the problem is based on ethnic and racial divisons? Isn't that the lesson some want us to learn from the possibility of civil war in Iraq? Don't get involved in people's personal disputes. It will only be messy and painful for you.
Europe has learned the same thing. The French have had a small contingent of troops in Chad, since 2004. That hasn't stopped the killings or the invasions. The French have learned lessons driving them to isolationism: major problems (even more than the U.S.) in their military interventions (Viet Nam, Algeria) and their own internal problems, underlined by the recent riots.
Every U.S. intervention that is lost, or that is made difficult by internal protest, makes it that much more difficult to intervene early in any other situation. One of the casualties of the rabid attacks on President Bush over the war in Iraq (Bush lied--People died) is Darfur and its tens of thousands of victims. Why should he, or any future president, subject themselves to that sort of abuse when U.S. security is not a stake?
Even those who are horrified by what is happening, like Nicholas Kristof, are reduced to "baby step" solutions. Cold comfort to the victims Kristof describes who continue to be victimized a second time (as Iraqi victims were for so many years) by the "silence of the bystander" and baby steps like no-fly zones and ineffective diplomacy that merely prolong the agony.