inaction faction

In order to end the violence in Darfur, one has to understand themotivations behind that violence ("Optimism Gap," October 30). Toclassify that violence as simple "genocide" is not doing the fullsituation justice. Sudan is a perfect example of "unevendevelopment." This development, in large part, has led to thesocietal rifts fueling the violence today. Over time, Darfur's cropexports have decreased, and desertification has encroached upon muchof the existing cropland. Due to this, a majority of Sudanesecitizens in Darfur have become increasingly poor. Those with wealthand power in the government are doing their best to maintaindominance and quell outrage over the rampant inequality. Thegovernment has enlisted the help of a Muslim militia group, theJanjaweed, to aid in quieting rebellion. This alone should lessenany possible arguments that what is taking place is genocide. Thereis no argument that the conflict is not violent or that it doesn'tneed to end. But part of the original definition of genocide,created after World War II, stipulates that "intent" is necessaryfor such a classification. The government's intent is not todestroy a group of people, but to maintain power, which does notqualify as genocide.

blake tyra

Lexington, Kentucky

Your editorial makes important, valid points. But the tangentialreference to Anthony Lake as "one of the architects of U.S.inaction in the Balkans" is not correct. The contrary is true. In1993 and 1994, opposition to an activist U.S. role to stop thegenocide in Bosnia came from other sources in the administration,as well as from the Europeans. Lake, as national security adviser,favored an activist role. In 1995, he was the architect of the end-game strategy that led to an end to the killings in Bosnia, to theDayton Accords, and to the establishment of an independent Bosnianstate.

richard schifter

Counselor, National Security Council, 1993-1997

Bethesda, Maryland

the editors respond:

The politics of Darfur are complex. Too often, this complexity hasbeen a crutch for those who argue that the killing and destructionstill unfolding in western Sudan does not constitute genocide ordoes not merit Western intervention. They point out that Darfur'srebels are not exactly blameless: After all, they note, it wasthose rebels--not Sudan's leaders--who ignited the conflict nearlyfour years ago, and many refused to sign an internationallymediated peace accord last spring. All true. But nowhere is itwritten that complex conflicts cannot also be genocidal ones.Indeed, it is those who refuse to call the Darfur conflict genocidewho seem incapable of dealing with complexity. They cite historicaland political factors, as if the mere existence of history andpolitics in this remote corner of Africa disproves the charge ofgenocide--as if genocide cannot be committed by those who havecomplicated political motivations or against those who belong togroups represented on the political stage by unsavory actors. Butthis is nonsense. That Darfuri rebel groups have committedatrocities does not prove Sudan's government innocent of committinggenocide. That Darfur's non-Arab tribes desire a greater share ofnational power and wealth does not change the fact that they arevictims of terrible crimes. That the Darfur crisis is partially theresult of morally neutral environmental factors does not refute thecharge that it is also the result of manmade evil. Blake Tyra'sargument is riddled with this illogic. Unfortunately, he isn'talone. Certain commentators seem to take special delight inexplaining just how complex the Darfur conflict is. Sudan's leadersare merely trying to hold the country together, they argue. Sowhat? The means Sudan's leaders have chosen to hold their countrytogether-- defeating the Darfur insurgency by altering the region'sdemography--are genocidal, and that is the only thing that matters.International law on genocide does not recognize a complexitydefense: If leaders order violence with "intent to destroy, inwhole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,"it doesn't matter whether their motivations for doing so aregeopolitically complex. Nor does it matter if the groups they targethave complicated ambitions and motivations of their own. Genocideis still genocide. And inaction is still shameful.

For his part, Richard Schifter raises a fair point about AnthonyLake. But, even if Lake was among the more activist members of theClinton team on Bosnia, he still presided as national securityadviser over a disastrous period of U.S. inaction in the Balkans.