Iraq vs. Darfur
David Bosco, one of our bloggers here at Passport, has a nuanced essay in this morning’s LA Times making the case that Iraq has become as much a humanitarian crisis as the more celebrated Darfur: POLLS TELL US that Americans want to be less involved in Iraq and more involved in Darfur. It’s not hard ...
POLLS TELL US that Americans want to be less involved in Iraq and more involved in Darfur. It’s not hard to understand why. For the American public, and many of its leaders, Iraq is a tainted war without good guys. Darfur, by contrast, is a chance to save the helpless. In our minds, Iraq and Darfur seem to fit into neat categories: One is a botched war, the other is a humanitarian crisis.
The ugly truth is that in both cases, thousands of innocent civilians are suffering. Bosco highlights a recent finding by the United Nations that over 34,000 Iraqis died in 2006 (here’s the pdf of the report itself). He could have added that another 471,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since last February’s Samarra shrine bombing. The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department’s most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced. But Bosco’s not trying to play the numbers game. Rather, he’s trying to grab Americans swayed by moral arguments over Darfur, and shake them into asking themselves whether the United States can still save lives in Iraq:
It’s natural that Americans would yearn for a simpler and clearer conflict than Iraq to showcase their humanitarian impulses. But our concern for Darfur must not become a moral salve that allows us to abandon Iraq to its spasm of violence. There may be no blameless factions in Iraq, but there are thousands of ordinary victims. Unless it is clear that we are doing no good, we owe them more.
If Bosco wanted to make the case that Iraq is actually more important to American interests than Darfur, he could have, but I think he would reject that kind of cold, amoral calculus. Is one person’s life more valuable than another’s? Yet, while it’s not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing “no good” in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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