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July 24, 2007



Obama's statement seems very clear in meaning that the existence of genocide in a place is not all one needs to know to intervene. The Congo was in genocidal chaos at the same time we were running up to war in Iraq. It is not, now.

Perhaps I misconstrue, but it seems a parsimonious expression of a fairly subtle point.

Nathan Smith

And should we have intervened to prevent genocide in the Congo? Why or why not? If the existence of genocide is not "all one needs to know," what else does one need to know? And, in the case of Iraq, do we know it?

I don't think Obama's making the point that the existence of genocide is not all we need to know in order to decide whether to intervene. That would be a point the Bushies or McCain might make *in response* to Obama: that just because there was ethnic bloodshed in the Congo and/or in Darfur, as well as in Iraq, it doesn't follow that the three cases are the same, and there may be a case for intervening in Iraq even if we don't intervene in the other two. If genocide is "not all we need to know," then the parallel that Obama is making is irrelevant. The fact of non-intervention in Congo is relevant to Iraq only if the existence of genocide *is* "all we need to know" to decide whether intervention is warranted.

Not that it would be a subtle point even if Obama were making it. It's an obvious point. *Of course* one must take many factors into account.


The Congo is an example of where we did not get involved militarily because it didn't make any sense, and now they are on the road to recovery. Our continuing military involvement in Iraq, one might say, makes no sense, and appeals to the prospect of genocide to not carry the issue on their own. The prospect of genocidal civil war in Iraq is the foremost counter-argument to calls for withdrawal. Further, the Congo shows that genocidal civil war need not be interminable when it does occur, even if the US does not send troops.

I would say it's an obviously true point that "genocide isn't all we need to know", but it's apparently too subtle for the dominant political discourse right now, because I don't see that baked into the discussion. That Bush, McCain etc are not making the defense that Iraq is different from other genocide-scenarios implies to me that they haven't really been presented with the point much.

That said, I do not wish to deny that Iraq is a different matter than the Congo, and was, as far as I know*, a much better candidate for intervention. I also think that there are a number of ways of defending our continuing investment in Iraq that do not boil down to appeals to genocide. The balance of reasoning points the other way to me, but I do regard it as the beginning, not the conclusion, of an argument.

*I don't know nearly as much about the Congo as I do about Iraq.

Nathan Smith

I think it's more a case of Bush/McCain being somewhat beyond such facile parallelisms. Anyway, what *is* the argument against not intervening the Congo. "A lot of people will die, but someday it will end," doesn't seem adequate. No doubt there are good arguments against US involvement in Congo, but it's troubling to hear Barack simply take this for granted. As if he's as indifferent to Congolese suffering as Iraqi suffering. The hollowness of his "caring about Darfur" is also disturbing. No, we won't invade and occupy "the Sudan" of course, but what will we do, pray tell?

However, perhaps he's answered that elsewhere. I suppose I shouldn't criticize too much, without having bothered to research his foreign policy position.

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