Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 26 July 2004

Blame the UN cheerleaders

By Mark Steyn, The Australian

July 26, 2004 — I see the next decade’s "Never again" story is here. Just as we all agreed the 1994 Rwandan genocide should never be allowed to happen again, so - in a year or two - we’ll all be agreed that another 2004 Sudanese genocide should never be allowed to happen again.

But right now it is happening, and you can’t help wondering where all the great humanitarians are. Alas, Sudan doesn’t seem to have much appeal to them, lacking as it does the crucial Bush angle and affording little opportunity for use of words such as "neocons" and "Halliburton".

In the Fairfax press, Robert Manne is still too busy fighting the last war - "Iraq is the greatest disaster in the recent history of US foreign policy. Nothing is more important than to try to understand how this catastrophe occurred." And if that means rehashing the same old column backwards and sideways for another two years - WMD, Andrew Wilkie, neocons, Cheney - he’s prepared to do it.

There’s an old, cynical formula for the prominence accorded different disasters by American editors. It runs something like: one dead American equals 10 dead Israelis equals 100 dead Russians equals 1000 dead Africans. But, to the average progressive columnist in the Western world, what matters is who killed you. 30,000 dead Sudanese don’t equal one Iraqi prisoner being led around Abu Ghraib on a dog collar. But the minute the Yanks go in and accidentally blow up a schoolhouse, injuring an eight-year-old girl, the Mannes of the world will discover a sudden interest in Africa.

Manne’s big gripe about Iraq seems to be that it was an "unnecessary, unlawful and unjust war". Each to his own. The Steyn Doctrine, such as it is, is that there’s never a bad reason to take out a thug regime. Unfortunately for the beleaguered villagers of Darfur, the Americans so far are playing by Manne’s rules. The USAF could target and bomb the Janjaweed as effectively as they did the Taliban.

But then the Not In Our Name crowd would get their knickers in a twist and everyone would complain that it’s unlawful unless it’s authorised by the UN. The problem is, by the time you’ve gone through the UN, everyone’s dead.

The UN system is broken beyond repair. The Security Council was unable to agree even on a resolution merely expressing some criticism of the Sudanese Government - China, Pakistan and Algeria scuppered that. In May, even as its proxies were getting stuck into their ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan was elected to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Commission. This isn’t an aberration: Zimbabwe is also a member. The very structure of the UN, under which countries vote in regional blocs, encourages such affronts to decency. The Sudanese representative immediately professed himself concerned by human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

As the Canadian columnist George Jonas put it, the UN enables dictators to punch above their weight. All Elfatih Mohammed Ahmed Erwa, the Sudanese Government’s man in New York, has to do is string things out long enough to bog down the US call for sanctions in the Gauloise-filled rooms. "Let’s not be hasty", Erwa told The Los Angeles Times. And, fortunately, not being hasty is something the UN’s happy to do in its own leisurely way until everyone’s in the mass grave and the point is moot.

A few days ago, the Australian Red Cross announced that three nurses from NSW were among those trying to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Good for them. But, if we were really serious about alleviating it, we’d stop using that pathetically evasive word "humanitarian". "Humanitarian crisis" is fine for a hurricane or a drought, but not a genocide.

The death and dislocation in Sudan is a political crisis, worsened by political decisions every step up the chain - from the blood-drenched militia to their patrons in Khartoum to their buddies in the African Union to the schemers and cynics at the UN. It’s "multilateralism" that magnifies some nickel and dime murder gangs into a global player. As for the West, if it’s only "lawful" when it’s sanctioned by the UN, then the almost inevitable "failure to get agreement in the Security Council" is the perfect cover for governments who would rather sit things out.

HERE’S another line for "multilateralists" to ponder, from a report by W.F. Deedes from Darfur in Britain’s Daily Telegraph: "Aid agencies have found it difficult to get visas."

The UN confers on its most dysfunctional members a surreal, postmodern sovereignty: a state that claims it can’t do anything about groups committing genocide across huge tracts of its territory nevertheless expects the world to respect its immigration paperwork as inviolable. Why should the West’s ability to help Darfur be dependent on the visa section of the Sudanese embassy? The world would be a better place if the UN, or the democratic members thereof, declared that thug states forfeit the automatic deference to sovereignty. But, since that won’t happen, it would be preferable if free nations had a forum of their own in which decisions could be reached before every last peasant has been hacked to death. The "coalition of the willing" has a nice ring to it.

One day historians will wonder why the most militarily advanced nations could do nothing to halt men with machetes and a few rusting rifles. Just over a century ago, after Kitchener’s victory over the dervishes at Omdurman, Belloc wrote:

"Whatever happens

We have got

The Maxim gun

And they have not."

We’ve tossed out the Maxim gun for Daisycutters and Cruise missiles. In Darfur, meanwhile, the Janjaweed on their horses are no better armed than the dervishes were. But we’re powerless against them because we have fetishised the poseur-multilateralism of the UN as the only legitimate form of intervention. And, because of it, in Sudan as in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands will die.

Mark Steyn is a columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group and the Chicago Sun-Times.