15 September 2006

Saving Darfur Ourselves?

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

The October 2006 issue of the magazine Reason has an interview with military analyst Chet Richards, under the title “The New Generation of War” (also available online here). In it, among his many suggestions for how the U.S. needs to revamp its military and rethink its approach to conflict, Richards says that private contractors – private militias, for rent to our government – may play an increasingly important role in future conflicts. Reason’s Managing Editor Jesse Walker, then poses a question to Richards, as follows:

Reason: What’s the possibility of private military companies being retained by Americans who aren’t in the government? Say some people decide they want to assist the people in Darfur and raise the funds and hire a company to do the job.

CR: I think there’s a 100 percent chance of that happening. I couldn’t tell you when.

Reason: Do you think it’s desirable?

CR: Oh, yeah. Again, let’s have some competition there.

Like Alexander the Great slicing through the Gordian Knot, I suddenly wondered whether Walker’s question (even more than Richards’ answer) provides some hope for the people of Darfur: what if, instead of marching in Central Park or London’s Kensington Gardens... what if, instead of giving money to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders... what if, instead of complaining about the inaction of the United States government, the United Nations, or the weak, hamstrung, and soon-to-depart African Union forces... the money that would otherwise be spent on these activities was instead used to support a private military force that went to Sudan to protect and defend the people of Darfur? To help stop them from becoming refugees in the first place, and to defend those already in refugee camps from being slaughtered?

Many of the people (myself included) concerned about the genocide in Darfur probably deplore any military action at all – but that isn’t exclusively true. Some of those who have been most vocal about the need to stop the Darfur genocide come from America’s devout Christian community, including Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a population that is often less afraid to use force if they believe it is the right thing to do (witness their support for the Iraq war). In fact, Brownback, along with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, wrote an article in The Washington Post last year (“Policy Adrift on Darfur,” 27 December 2005) suggesting that the U.S. needed to shift and reconsider its approach to dealing with the conflict, concluding “And when the history of this tragedy is written, nobody will remember how many times officials visited the region or how much humanitarian aid was delivered. They will only remember the death toll.”

Brownback and Obama do not mention the use of private military contractors, but maybe they would consider the idea, and perhaps the rest of us should as well. If we re-frame the question about Darfur into one that explicitly asks “What can be done to stop the genocide now?” perhaps this is an answer. It is inherently unappealing, since it implicitly acknowledges more conflict, not less. But as the Senators wrote, we will only remember the numbers of dead – and if we can prevent more people from dying by using private funds to protect them aggressively, then perhaps that should be our obligation, and by whatever means necessary.


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