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Senator Obama on Iraq and Darfur


Historian Niall Ferguson, whose most recent book is The War of the World and who is currently the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard, takes Senator Obama to task for introducing the “The Iraq War De-escalation Act,” which would mandate “a phased redeployment of US forces with the goal of removing all US combat forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008,” while also accusing the Bush administration of doing too little to stop the murderous policies of the Sudanese government towards the people of Darfur.

Regarding Darfur, Ferguson points to an article in December 2005 in which Obama argued that “advisers from Western nations” should be embedded within the African Union’s mission in Darfur, and that the United States should “work with other nations to provide military assets to African Union forces, such as attack helicopters and armoured personnel carriers”. In the article, the Senator urged the deployment of “a UN or NATO-led force”. “If the United States does not change its approach to Darfur,” he declared, “an already grim situation is likely to spiral out of control.”

After correctly pointing out that “A key lesson of recent civil wars is that they seldom stay localised,” Ferguson says this:

Wait a second. Here are two grim situations, each likely to spiral out of control. But in one (Sudan) Obama recommends military intervention, while in the other (Iraq) he recommends military withdrawal. Am I missing something?

Let me try to answer Ferguson’s question.

Two things are, I believe, undeniable: first, the United States bears a greater responsibility for the civil war in Iraq than it does for the civil war/genocide in Darfur, and, second, the national interests of the United States are more deeply involved in the the outcome of the Iraqi civil war.

How, then, can the disparity between the responsibility and interests of the United States and Obama’s positions on the two conflicts be explained? The answer is that Obama’s words of wisdom typify those of left-liberals: “selfish” national interest isn’t a justification for military interventions, but “selfless” humanitarian causes are.

This is not to say that I oppose military intervention in Darfur — in fact, I believe that it is both necessary and appropriate. What concerns me is aptly stated in the concluding paragraphs of Ferguson’s op-ed:

It is January 20, 2009, and Barack Obama is being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Just as he demanded, the last American soldier was airlifted out of Baghdad’s green zone the previous March. Since then, Iraq and its neighbours have been consumed by a tide of sectarian violence unlike anything seen since Rwanda in 1994.

The death toll is estimated to be as high as half a million, and rising. The United Nations has officially condemned the Shiite government’s murderous expulsion of the Sunnis of south-eastern Iraq as genocide.

In Washington, the question on everyone’s lips is: Will President Obama call for US military intervention to halt the killing?

And if he doesn’t, how would this square with his position on Darfur?

Cross-posted at American Future.